Meet…Karla Ramirez

My story with conservation begins when, as a child born and raised in the world’s second biggest city that is located in a desert (Lima in Peru), my parents used to take me on holiday trips to the highlands and coastal areas. As an only child, I was very good at keeping myself (and my mind) busy in creative ways. I used to collect rocks, leaves and feathers as souvenirs from everywhere we went. The animals, the landscapes and the colors always fascinated me and inspired songs, drawings and stories I made up. Later on, I decided to study biology. Not only because of the fascination that the natural world produced in me, but also because I was ready to keep exploring the unknown, drawing my own adventure. 

It took me a while to fall in love with biology as a scientific discipline. First, because I was also interested in cultural and creative pathways of expression, often separated from science. And second, because I had more exposure to the micro and molecular approaches to biology, inside labs and with very little of the outdoorsy biology experience. So, when I finished my undergrad at the Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University (in 2010), I decided to leave my hometown and move to the rainforest in the north of Peru. I was supposed to volunteer at a primate conservation NGO for only three months. I ended up staying there for the next three years, dedicating most of my 12 years of professional career to the conservation of the Peruvian rainforest and becoming part of the board for that NGO, Neotropical Primate Conservation – Peru.

Kakamega Forest, Kenya

One of the best things that happened to me during those years of chasing monkeys around the forest was being introduced to other ideas about conservation that I had not learned at university. We were constantly reflecting on how conservation was mainstreamed around the world and in the Peruvian Amazon. For example, the way that protected areas such as national parks mostly did not involve people in their decision-making or how nature was being given an economic value over other values. We would discuss about what other local mechanisms, values and relationships with nature existed, besides the ones that were recognized by the national government and the related institutions. We questioned research methods in conservation and I was introduced to participatory approaches. Also, the connections I made during those years led me to volunteer in the UK and Kenya at monkey rescue centers. 

While living and working amongst academics and activists, I got inspired to study a Masters in Environmental Studies at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand (2016). This allowed me to go deeper into my first reflections about community-based conservation through my thesis. I tried to understand the establishment process of a community-based conservation project (conservation concession) run by local campesinos and coffee growers in the Peruvian Amazon. This allowed me to explore local power relations, participation arrangements and the political/social dimensions over 7 years of change in the project.

When coming back to Peru, I kept working for several non-profit organizations and research centers. I was very curious to find a way to operationalize that critical and political view that I developed during my masters. I landed in the amazing and vaguely critically explored ground of environmental education. I had various jobs on this topic, working for almost three years as the environmental education coordinator at the Cocha Cashu Biological Station. I became more attracted by the political twists of environmental education and its empowering consequences, integrating different cultures and epistemologies, and towards the coexistence between humans and wildlife. In 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic, my colleague Nicole and I decided to start ComunaCiencia, a little non-profit organization to introduce place-based education into the Peruvian school science curriculum. 

Cocha Cashu Biological Station

After more years working in the Amazon, I started a parallel journey in the Peruvian highlands. The arid zone’s landscape, above the 2500 m.a.s., was closer to my childhood memories of family trips. However, coming back to this landscape as part of the research team of CIZA, focusing on the ways that the local systems of knowledge relate with the formal education system, was a completely different experience. My interest in education evolved towards a wider interest in systems of knowledge and how they coexist in different contexts.

Later on, I had the opportunity to change my lenses towards the international wider picture, introducing myself into the process for applying to global conservation funds with Profonanpe. This was very different from my previous work. It gave me perspective of the dimensions of bottom-up and top-down approaches to conservation that are targeted by the funds. Finally, full of contested reflections from my own work, and the processes and organizations that I have been involved in, I felt ready to go for a PhD… and so, here I am. I will be exploring the ways that priorities for conservation for local communities relate to the priorities at international and national levels in Peru and, hopefully, providing an insight to a better future in bringing different systems of knowledge to the negotiation.