If you have had the opportunity to visit the Zoo over the last several days, you may have been lucky enough to encounter Gabriel Massocato a Brazilian Giant Armadillo Project Biologist and Houston Zoo conservation associate. This week, Gabriel took a break from his work in the field and traveled to Houston on a very special mission – serving as a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program sponsored by ExxonMobil. Each year, 10 students from universities around the US are selected to spend a summer at the Houston Zoo in order to train, learn, and work alongside Zoo staff and regional conservation partners. For the past week, Gabriel has lead the interns through activities and discussions tackling current field conservation topics such as monitoring techniques, properly engaging stakeholders, and addressing human/wildlife conflict.
Gabriel shares a special bond with the CCP students, as he too came to the Houston Zoo for training in 2016 after being selected by the Zoo Admissions team as a Wildlife Warrior. The Wildlife Warrior program recognizes outstanding staff employed by the Zoo’s existing wildlife conservation partners. The award is designed to increase the recipient’s conservation community network and inspire empowerment by providing opportunities to gain further education through training or experiences. In his second year as guest instructor, the student has become the teacher, and for Gabriel, the opportunity to share his knowledge and expertise, inspiring next generation of wildlife saving heroes is priceless:
” For me it is a great honor and opportunity to teach new conservation leaders. This is the moment in which I can share the data of our research with the giant armadillo and giant anteaters and show how we are doing conservation in Brazil. In addition to the subjects related to the species we are researching, students learn to talk to different partners. This is a kind of subject that we do not have the opportunity to learn at university and I am sure that learning it will make a difference in their working career. I confess that I wish I had taken such a course during my student years.”
As the CCP interns reflected over their experiences this past week, which marked the halfway point for the program, it was clear that Gabriel’s visit had made quite an impact:
“To learn from Gabriel was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will not forget; he is a testament to the quality of partnerships that the Houston Zoo creates all over the world. He embodies what it means to be an effective conservationist – knowledgeable about the technicalities of his work, yet charismatic and approachable when interacting with the general public. I expected to learn about Brazil and giant anteaters and armadillos, but in just a week Gabriel has taught me a great deal about communication, culture, and conservation as a whole.” – Zoe, Rice University
Gabriel will return to Brazil next week to reunite with his team and continue with their important work addressing threats to giant anteaters and giant armadillos, and establishing long-term protection plans for wildlife in Brazil. We will miss him dearly, but know that our CCP interns will carry his wildlife saving message in their hearts and minds for years to come.