OKC Zoo Curator Pioneers People-First Conservation Strategy

Brad Lock is a modern-day renaissance man. In addition to being a board-certified veterinarian and a world-renown researcher, Lock is the OKC Zoo’s curator of herpetology and aquatics. Contributing to dozens of academic publications over his storied career, his work has greatly impacted animal preservation efforts throughout the world. Lock is busy blazing yet another trail: creating a new conservation method focusing on people and communities first.

Foundation for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Guatemala logo

Lock says without the support of people; conservation work is practically impossible. That’s been the guiding philosophy of the Foundation for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Guatemala (FUNDESGUA), the organization he helped form in 2013. The group is dedicated to using “science based-strategies embedded in local culture to guide everyday actions, as the ingredients to our successful conservation results”.

Guatemalan beaded lizard

Their target species are the Guatemalan beaded lizard and the Campbell’s alligator lizard. These animals have extremely limited natural habitats – equivalent to about four “Texas-sized” ranches according to Lock. When their forest homes are separated by man-made clearings, the populations are basically stuck. The lizards don’t venture out into open spaces.

In areas like Guatemala, where extreme poverty is common and access to amenities like electricity is rare, it is common to chop down old growth trees for wood used to cook or heat homes. To combat this and to protect the remaining old-growth forests, FUNDESGUA supplied saplings for community-managed forests with fast-growing, native Eucalyptus and Pine Oak tree species for easy access to firewood. The successful program has expanded to six forests, each with about 10,000 trees.

Community managed forest seedlings

They created conservation curricula for schools and often bring native species to classrooms, engaging and educating students about the importance of conservation. When it became apparent that many local children were being forced to leave school due to costs involved with education, FUNDESGUA created a scholarship program, which has supported more than 250 students with grants of $50 to $300 a year.

This also ties into their mission to build trust and goodwill in the communities surrounding their conservation areas. Other efforts have included building modest homes for locals in need, providing transportation to and from school, hosting meetings with local governments and more. They help provide English language training so participants can tap into the large call center industry in Guatemala.

Guatemala conservation education

FUNDESGUA’s people-first mission is bearing conservation victories plus some unexpected results. Building trust and integrating their mission with local populations has allowed the organization to expand its conservation area from 100 acres to more than 6,500 acres. The estimate of the number of lizards under its care in the wild has grown from about to 200 to over 1,000. They have planted 120,000 trees and educated 110,000 students. Plus, the focus on education has led to increased employment opportunities. A local hotel chain has recently started recruiting from local villages.

The future for FUNDESGUA and people-first conservation is bright.

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