In Their Own Words: Stephanny Arroyo Arce & Belen Castuera

Stephanny Arroyo Arce is a jaguar scientist who works in Costa Rica for the conservation organization Panthera. At the 2018 Sustainability Exchange, she spoke with Belen Castuera of IFC about balancing biodiversity and development.


Belen Castuera: Stephanny. When people ask what you do for a living, what do you say? Because when I’m asked, I say I’m a banker. The conversation is over. End of story. But in your case you work with jaguars, with a tracker dog… I find it so interesting.

Stephanny Arroyo Arce: Yes, sometimes it’s a bit complicated. I tell them I’m a biologist. And then ‘what do you do’? And I say ‘well, I go on field trips throughout Costa Rica looking for feline feces.’ And they ask ‘what do you mean?’ So I explain that it’s a genetic tracking project, that I work with a Labrador retriever. And people become very interested in the work.

Belen: When did you realize that things like jaguars, Reventazon, and Costa Rica’s hydropower generation were connected?

Stephanny: Reventazon is the largest hydropower project in Central America – so it is going to have a potential impact on biodiversity. It is in an area that is very important for the conservation of jaguars. Panthera started monitoring activities to understand what the area was like before construction started so that the impact of the project on biodiversity could be understood and so that mitigation measures could be put in place to avoid cutting off this route for the jaguars.

Belen: You are doing work that is at the forefront of the conservation of jaguars.  And it is important to us at IFC that we can support renewable energy and also demonstrably protect biodiversity in this way. Revantazon has helped Costa Rica become a country that runs on nearly 100% renewable energy.  There are so many different aspects that make this really special.

Stephanny: It is great to see how different organizations with perhaps different interests are working together to identify the impact of such a project on jaguars and all the other wildlife species in the area.

Belen: What is your favorite story?

“It is important to us at IFC that we can support renewable energy and also demonstrably protect biodiversity. ” – Belen Castuera

Stephanny: It’s meaningful to work with communities, so they can protect the animals living near them. In Tortuguero, a national park in Costa Rica, sometimes we had situations where people wanted to get close to a jaguar when they saw one, and that worried us. Then we started to give presentations to explain the importance of not disturbing the jaguars and their habitat. We have seen that over time that people behave differently – respecting the jaguar when they see one, not wanting to go near it or take a picture of it, and even passing me the data when they are aware of a jaguar’s presence. I get messages on WhatsApp saying ‘Stephanny, I saw this jaguar at night, at this time.’ Or when they see footprints on the beach they say ‘Stephanny, I saw this in case the data is useful.’

Belen: Technology is amazing. A few years ago receiving a WhatsApp of a photo of a jaguar footprint would be unthinkable, really.

Stephanny: It has helped us a lot and it’s very gratifying to see the improved trust between communities and wild cats living around them. They are neighbors after all.

Belen: What is the greatest lesson you think you have learned in your work?

Stephanny: When I started college I only wanted to work with animals, I did not want to work with people. But I realized over time that this is not possible – if you want to do conservation you have to reach people first because at the end of the day they are the ones who take the decisions. On the one hand I need to be in the field and collect and publish data. But I always need to ensure that the data makes sense to people in government, in municipalities, and in communities, because that’s how they will want to protect these animals.