Never underestimate the impact one person can have – especially when that person is driven by both passion and purpose.
Few people embody this ideal as deeply as Dr. Erika Flores, IFAW veterinarian and Project Manager for Latin America and the Caribbean who, each year, along with partners, helps an estimated 14,000 animals from her base in the coastal city of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. When the pandemic forced the lockdown in her town, she stood by IFAW’s partner clinic to assist animals for medical assistance and set up the food bank that provided relief for hundreds of worried families for several months.
Erika is currently the manager for IFAW´s Casitas Azules (‘Blue Houses’) project, which promotes coexistence between communities, domestic animals and wildlife, fostering both jaguar and marine turtle conservation. Through an innovative community-based approach, this project finds solutions to address conflicts between domestic animals and wild animals through a variety of interventions including domestic animal husbandry, implementing deterrents and proper sheltering (‘blue doghouses and dog pens’ models), as well as predator-proof chicken coops and successful practices in community animal management.
The geographic scope of the project and Erika’s work is within the Yucatan Peninsula, where 49% of recorded jaguar attacks on domestic animals are on dogs. These encounters become more common as populations, including their pets, are scattered more broadly.
According to Erika, “It is important not to judge. We don’t all have the same opportunities in life. Everyone learns differently and has grown up differently alongside animals. Treating people patiently and empowering them will ultimately make them better stewards of the world’s animals.”
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Erika is a welcome and recognized figure in Playa de Carmen and further afield. Whether through IFAW’s comprehensive community outreach programs or attending to the needs of a much-loved family pet, she says the happiest moments come when she witnesses the joy that humans experience from their animals and how happy animals are around their humans.
“That’s what makes it all worth it,” she says.
In her 11 years with IFAW, Erika has worked through a range of initiatives including a joint partnership with IFAW and Coco’s Animal Welfare, a high-volume, spay & neuter shelter in the local area. She also provides expertise in topics that include shelter medicine principles, forensics, humane animal handling, disaster preparedness and human-wildlife coexistence as part of the trainings she is often involved in. She also rounds out her time as a trained responder and member of IFAW’s Disaster Response & Risk Reduction program, supporting families and their animals during times of crisis such as natural disasters.
“What keeps me going day in and day out is that I can see the impact we are having. By giving the community the resources and training they need, we are empowering them. And in turn, that is very empowering for us,” says Erika.
As something of a role model, the few times Erika is not in the field, she spends time encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers other than those traditionally expected by their communities.
“Inspiring girls to achieve their dreams is not only rewarding, but deeply humbling as well. In many ways I am fortunate. I always knew that I had a very strong personal relationship with animals growing up and understood early on the deeper sense of connection that all animals and people share,” she says. “It is so important for women to take leadership roles in the field of conservation. We are all equally connected on this earth and we share the immense potential for creating tremendous impact. As a Mexican woman and the first Latin American female veterinarian for IFAW, I must admit – sometimes I have to pinch myself as a reminder of the life I’m living. All women have the power to create such a life and to create positive impact that serves as a source of never-ending inspiration for so many.”
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Erika and the dog, Cata. Featured Photo Credit: IFAW.