Thinking Back on SACAS

By Ron Skylstad

It’s now been a week since I returned from Costa Rica to attend and present at the Sustainable Amphibian Conservation of the Americas Symposium (SACAS).  As I try to shift gears back into my day job, my mind still buzzes with the sound of rushing water down quebradas, the trill of cicadas high in the rainforest canopy above and the darting movements of Oophaga pumilio in the dark leaf litter.  I am left considering the post-event thoughts of Richard Revis, one of the event’s organizers:

As guests began arriving, I had no idea just how all of these disjointed parts, each from a different part of the world, would come together to create such a substantial and awe-inspiring whole. Some were strangers to me, familiar only by name. Others, I was lucky enough to be able to call friends for many years. Whoever they were, it was truly amazing to interact with these people, hearing them share their work and their struggles. I watched them speak, one by one, about their work, seeing their tireless dedication to a largely thankless task. It was humbling. It made me realize that these were such very special people who could stay on-task for so long, remaining focused when others told them it was not worth it. These people were not distracted or put off by difficult and tiring field work, mostly at their own expense of both time and money, and remained dedicated to their goals.

Like Richard, I found myself among people I have known for years as well as people I was meeting for the first time.  Some of the conversations that took place over meals and during bus rides were the same ones we’ve been having for years at various events regarding conservation and the desire for a more sustainable amphibian hobby.  What made this event different was that many of the entities working toward sustainability were all present under one roof.   Over the course of the week we had opportunities to not only celebrate those individuals who have been paramount in spearheading these new types of models, but also discuss some of the hurdles that still exist.

SACAS also provided attendees a chance to explore several locations along the central and southern Caribbean regions of Costa Rica and to see various amphibians and their habitats.  It’s one thing to see a species such as Hylomantis lemur or Hyalinobatrachium valeroi in a naturalistic vivarium, it’s another thing entirely to observe them during a night hike and to hear their calls emanating from the darkness and foliage around you.  They are incredible animals in and of themselves, but SACAS provided an opportunity to take in the breadth of the tapestry of which they are a part.

The primary purpose of SACAS was to raise funds for small, grassroots efforts working in the field or in their countries of origin toward conservation.  Realizing that the face of effective amphibian conservation is changing, it was hoped that enough funds could be raised through the event to provide a financial boost and show of monetary appreciation for those entities who are exploring novel and alternative models.  Although TWI does not own a tract of land in South America or specifically sell amphibians, we work to empower those individuals and efforts that do — SACAS was an ideal event for us to participate in.

Toward the end of the event, I facilitated a roundtable discussion with all of the presenters and attendees regarding a variety of issues facing both the captive amphibian hobby/trade, as well as conservation and the myriad of ties between them.  Although no clear answers were found for many of the issues that were brought up and discussed, there is no doubt that the room was full of people who are passionate about finding a better way forward and supporting those individuals and entities who are pioneering those trails.

In the end, SACAS didn’t reach it’s hoped-for maximum fundraising goals, which I personally found disappointing.  This had less to do with the organization of the event so much as actual buy-in and participation from the hobby at large.  Nonetheless, it was an amazing event in that it brought so many people together into the same place and at the same time.  It allowed a voice for those who have been in the trenches, as well as providing an opportunity for networking between like-minded individuals and organizations.  And those of us who are part of TWI are already working on some of the ideas that were birthed over late night beers and early morning conversations while down there, so that we can continue to do our part in the international effort of amphibian conservation.

As the tagline on our website says: “United to save amphibians.”  SACAS was a wonderful manifestation of this spirit.

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