Meet Dania

By Dania Abizaid, GPOCP Research Volunteer
My name is Dania Abizaid, I’m 23 years old and come from Baja California, Mexico. Ever since I was a child, I felt a strong attraction towards nature and its wonders, and was lucky enough that my parents encouraged this, even though they sometimes didn´t appreciate me climbing into every place I could, or bringing every creature I found to our house. Towards the end of my high school education, it was time to decide what to do with my life. Both of my parents had studied law, and it was clear to me that this path was well traced, convenient and stable. But there was something deep inside me that knew it was not the road I was supposed to take. So, throwing everyone off guard, I made the decision to study Biology, and it has been one of the best choices of my life. In this vast new world, I´ve discovered numerous wonders which only seem to multiply the more I learn.
Dania exploring one of the many caves in the south side of Guadalupe Island, refuge and reproduction site for the Laysan Albatross, Northern elephant seals, Great white sharks and the endemic Guadalupe fur seal.
During my studies, I volunteered for anything I could find that involved fieldwork and animal research, traveling from the magical forests of the San Pedro Martir Sierra and the mysterious Guadalupe Island in Mexico, to the vibrant jungles of Costa Rica, getting to know not just incredible places, but also the amazing people who fight incessantly to preserve them. These would prove to be key factors in shaping me not only as a biologist, but also as a person. The fulfillment and passion I felt whilst working made me realize that I had hit the jackpot, I was doing exactly what I was meant to do. So when I discovered there was a position at the Gunung Palung Orangutan Project doing behavioral and ecological research, my memory flashed back to the time when I was a small girl and read about the extraordinary women who studied primates in Africa and Asia. This was all at a time when women often weren´t taken seriously in research, however they ended up breaking through all expectations with their astonishing work. I dreamed about them, about being in their shoes, but it still felt so far away, like a fantasy, a dream, too big to happen.
Dania freediving in the crystal waters of La Paz. Located in the south of the peninsula of Baja California, Mexico, this Sea offers dazzling fish, coral and mammal species.
Nonetheless, the job was too wondrous to ignore, and I sent my information without expecting too much. To my surprise, I received a response, and was later interviewed and accepted. It was at this moment that I understood that there was no sense in being scared or feeling unworthy, and that all my past experiences had prepared me for this. I finally grasped that most times, the only real obstacle between you and those big dreams is your own self-doubt.
So now, I could not be happier to start working at Cabang Panti Research Station, alongside remarkable women and men, learning about the vast and wonderful Indonesian culture and digging into the mysterious lives of orangutans. I believe we must strive to understand this awe-inspiring species which has so much to teach us and whose continued existence is so seriously threatened. I am sure I will encounter enormous difficulties but will learn invaluable lessons as well, through which this opportunity will be the door to becoming a quality researcher. All this will further my abilities to contribute to noble causes in the near future whilst also serving as a small sign to other people, in any corner of the world, that reaching that “pipe dream” is not impossible.
Overlooking the north side of the Biosphere Reserve of Guadalupe Island, located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California Mexico. (Here I worked with the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas cooperating with other researchers on their work with the endemic Guadalupe fur seal). Photos credit Dania Abizaid.