Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) changed its name to Re:wild in 2021
Andres Link has spent close to two decades studying the social relations of wild spider monkeys in Colombia and Ecuador, with a focus on how they compete and cooperate. His research has increased our understanding of the effects of habitat degradation and fragmentation on the ecology and population dynamics of neotropical primates. Andres goes beyond research to train the next generation of field biologists and work with local communities to improve livelihoods whilst preserving the tropical forests and ecosystems upon which the communities, and their primate neighbors, depend. We had a chance to catch up with Link about what drives his passion and what this award means to him:
Q. How did you develop your passion for wildlife?
Since I was a kid, I always felt deeply interested in learning about animal behavior. I often watched wildlife documentaries on the great african migrations, lions and hyenas and many other fascinating videos. Nonetheless it was only until my undergraduate studies that I felt I wanted to learn more and more about the native wildlife of Colombia and the neotropics. I then became interested in birds and their diversity, but soon after I found that I wanted to learn about the nature of social relations of wild animals, and monkeys were an ideal group to study. Luckily, since the first time I saw a wild spider monkey I knew I was going to focus on learning more and more about their ecology and social behavior and that’s what I have been doing for the last two decades! They became the best excuse to spend hours, days and years in some of the most diverse forests on the planet.
Q. What is your favorite part of working in the field?
I love being in the field. I enjoy being in the forest and rural areas as they allow me to imagine how ecosystems worked prior to human interventions, and how monkeys relate to each other, compete and cooperate. But also, I have had the unique opportunity to learn a lot from native communities, campesinos and from my colleagues while being in the field. I have been lucky enough to spend over five years living in the tropical forests of Colombia and Ecuador, and I have to say that every day has a surprise. You learn something every single day and you realize how beautiful nature is by looking at small details. Time slows down in the field and you can really have moments to stop and think and allow yourself to enjoy this planet.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
My job is a constant adventure. I feel very lucky to be an explorer every day, but I also feel that training a new generation of wildlife conservationists from universities and from the local communities is extremely rewarding. It makes me feel like I have contributed to a better world through empowering those who will certainly be drivers of positive changes in this world.
Q. What do you love about primates in particular?
Everything!! I love the complex societies they form and how they have very complex social strategies in order to build social bonds and alliances and cooperate. Every monkey is playing its own game to survive and reproduce through the interactions with many other members of their social groups; it resembles quite closely our own social behavior. But also, you just have to look directly into their eyes and feel a very close resemblance to ourselves. They can easily transmit many different feelings. Finally, when you are lucky enough to get to know a group of primates – sometimes better than some of your friends – you learn how each individual has a unique personality, and thats is fascinating!
Q. What does this award mean to you?
I feel very proud to receive the Sabin Award for Excellence in Primate Conservation. I am only the person receiving this award who really represents a large team of colleagues (including my two life time collaborators Anthony di Fiore and Gabriela de Luna), local communities, colleagues, students and persons that have joined efforts towards the conservation of primates and their ecosystems. I am very happy to receive this award as it means we, as a team, are going in the right track!.
Q. Are you hopeful for the future of our planet’s primates?
Yes. There are moments when I feel our challenge is enormous, but I am also convinced that we can make a difference at a local, regional and global scale. There are important trends we need to change, like forest loss and degradation, but I am happy to see a new generation that is much more connected and committed to conservation and sustainable development.
Q. Why should everyone care about saving wildlife?
I think everyone should care about saving wildlife. Every one of us should realize that in a vast universe, where planet earth is practically nothing, something completely improbable happened and life emerged. Just looking at the enormous diversity of organisms and looking at their structures, interactions and how they relate to the functions of ecosystems should marvel us. Every species alive on the planet today has come along the same route of evolution in a story of more than 3500 million years, and we should be able to share that planet with them. But also, we now know our wellbeing is directly related to the functions of ecosystems and we should be very wise on how we decide to interact with nature.
Q. Do you have a favorite primate species? If so, which?
I certainly do – I love spider monkeys!