Growing up in the city of San Jose do Rio Preto, Brazil, provided Rafael with few opportunities to interact directly with wildlife. So when the time came to choose a university, Rafael picked Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul State to do his Bachelor of Sciences in Biology, because it would allow him to work in a hands on manner in the field of wildlife conservation.
During this time, he also interned at Embrapa Pantanal, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, where he worked with local communities in the Pantanal region—the world’s largest wetlands and home to an immense variety of life—to set up a tourism program that would allow tourists to spot carnivores in the region and give them a chance to experience the daily life of the local people. The aim behind this initiative was to raise awareness about the local biodiversity and its impact on people’s livelihoods. In 2009, Rafael joined an operation to collar a jaguar in a nearby site. While the operation took a week, he was left with a deep appreciation of the jaguar and an understanding of how they were key indicators of environmental health in the Pantanal.
For his PhD in Anthropology at the University College London, Rafael is studying the connection between conservation and development in rural regions where many conservation efforts take place. With his degree, he hopes to one day lead a group of biologists and anthropologists toward seeking sustainable solutions that would protect wildlife and the people impacted by it. For Rafael, returning home to work in the Pantanal after earning his PhD would be the realization of a long held dream