February 17, 2022

A Conservation Celebration

 Denver Zoo Staff Member Luis Castillo Wins Prestigious Peruvian Conservation Award

 

In December 2021, Luis Castillo, Denver Zoo's project coordinator in Peru, won the most important conservation award in his country, the Carlos Ponce del Prado 2021 Award (CPPA) in the Outstanding Young Conservationist category. This award is promoted by Conservation International, the Andes Amazon Fund and the National Fund for Natural Areas Protected by the Government with the support of the Ministry of the Environment and the National Service of Natural Protected Areas. Each year, the CPPA recognizes leaders who inspire us in the path of conservation and who have risen to address challenges to conserve the biodiversity of Peru.    

Luis was born in Lima, Peru and graduated as a biologist from the University of San Marcos. His entire professional career has been dedicated to studying and conserving endangered endemic species of frogs in the regions of Junin and Pasco, in the central Andes of Peru. In 2017, as a graduate student, he did research, funded by the Denver Zoo, on the habitat preference of Lake Junin giant frog’s (Telmatobius macrostomus) tadpoles, which enabled him to complete his bachelor's thesis and his first publication about these little-studied amphibians which are found only in streams and lakes over 13,000 feet above sea level.

Luis (right) conducting his research in Lake Junin
Luis (right) conducting his research in Lake Junin

As if his graduate studies weren’t keeping him busy enough, Luis also co-found a non-profit organization called Grupo RANA, with the aim of conserving these and other native species in Lima, Junín and Pasco, Peru. Since its creation in 2017, Grupo RANA has been carrying out environmental education projects with children from local schools, where the conservation of the environment is encouraged with an emphasis on aquatic amphibians. A year later he became a National Geographic young explorer, which included grant funds to advance scientific understanding of the presence and distribution of these species of endangered frogs in the Lake Junin watershed.   

In 2018, Luis became a member of the Denver Zoo team as project coordinator for our Peru Program. True to his passion and studies, his work remains focused on these frogs.  Luis is in charge of all Denver Zoo-led the conservation activities in Junín and Pasco. He serves as Denver Zoo’s on-the-ground liaison to government institutions and communities in Peru, at local and regional levels, in order to carry out the conservation strategy developed in 2013, with help of IUCN and led by Junin National Reserve, US Peace Corps and Denver Zoo.  

Last year, Denver Zoo initiated a community-based monitoring and habitat protection project- called the Frog Guardians of Lake Junin- which aims to empower local communities to conserve their own natural resources, with an emphasis on aquatic amphibians of the high Andes. In addition to leading that effort, Luis is collaborating with local partners to advance Denver Zoo’s efforts to conserve Chilean flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis) in Lake Junin. He has participated in population monitoring, helped establish flamingo conservation priorities for Denver Zoo and our partners, and organized community celebrations for International Flamingo Day. 

Luis’ research and publications are shedding light on the biology of amphibians in the wild and the threats they face, thereby informing conservation actions undertaken by Denver Zoo and our Peruvian partners.  Through his service on the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Amphibian Specialist Group, Luis is amplifying Denver Zoo’s expertise toward the benefit of wildlife through the international conservation community. As an early-career young professional, Luis Castillo has become nationally and internationally recognized for his work to conserve threatened amphibian species.  Denver Zoo is proud to count him as one of our own, and heartily congratulates him in being a winner of Carlos Ponce del Prado 2021 Award. 

Luis (center) recieves his award

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