As a recent graduate in forestry, she worked her first years at Paso Pacífico following troops of spider monkeys through the forest, collecting fecal material for later genetic analysis and mapping monkey dispersal. This work is not for the faint at heart. Spider monkeys are particularly fond of forests that grow on steep cliffs, which help them evade hunters and also enable them to move across a range of treetops. No matter the direction or the topographical challenges, Claudia would follow the troops day after day through the forest. When the local guides would tire, she would continue on, earning her a reputation for hard work and grit. She now has the best first-hand knowledge of the various spider monkey troops and the locations of their favored habitat. Paso Pacífico and collaborating scientists depend on Claudia’s knowledge to develop effective conservation efforts.
The rural communities have embraced Claudia because of her strong work ethic. This trust has enabled her to teach community members about how spider monkeys build healthy forests, and has opened up new dialogue for wildlife protection. As evidence of the friendships she has built, she is always able to find ways to complete her distant field work even when Paso Pacífico trucks are not available. This is because community members offer her rides on horseback and in vehicles. Whether the challenges are methodological or logistical, when one opportunity falls through, she always is able to find another.
Claudia Perla represents the future of conservation in Nicaragua. Through her knowledge of western Nicaragua’s Black-handed Spider Monkey and her passion for native forests, she will continue to build a better future for this endangered primate and her country.
For information on Disney’s commitment to conserve nature and a complete list of 2014 Conservation Hero Award recipients, visit www.disney.com/conservation.