To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we are taking the opportunity to highlight Latinx leaders working in conservation who inspire us!

Today we are featuring Sergio Avila! We asked him to share about his career path and his experiences as a person of color working in conservation.

Sergio was born in Mexico City (1972) and grew up in Zacatecas, Mexico. He’s an immigrant to the United States, living in Tohono O’odham and Yaqui lands, known as Tucson, Arizona. He was first hired by the University of Arizona in 2004, and became a U.S. Citizen in 2016.  Sergio is a husband, son, brother, uncle and cousin; a trail runner; and an outspoken justice and equity advocate.

Sergio holds a Master’s degree (Arid Ecosystems Management & Wildlife Research) from University of Baja California; and a Bachelor’s in Biology (University of Aguascalientes), both in Mexico. For twenty-five years, Sergio has worked on regional conservation efforts along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. His varied experience includes living with the Indigenous Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre (1998), and ranching communities of Sonora (2003), which transformed his vision of environmental stewardship and conservation. Avila tracked and studied borderland jaguars and ocelots in the southwest United States and northwest Mexico for 10 years. Two live encounters with jaguars in the mountains of Sonora were life-changing experiences that shaped Sergio’s personal and professional life. He has led efforts to protect Monarch butterflies’ migration, studied Cactus-ferruginous pygmy-owls in the Sonoran Desert, and mountain lion predation on bighorn sheep in Baja California. 

Throughout his career, Sergio has felt invisible, alone, and not represented in the environmental and conservation communities as a person of color, feeling forced to ‘code switch’ and ‘fit in’ in spaces, instead of feeling true belonging. While studying borderland jaguars and monitoring the impacts of border wall construction, Avila became directly aware of U.S. immigration policies and enforcement. Continued racial profiling, harrassement and threats by the U.S. Border Patrol caused Avila to stop jaguar research along the borderlands. Due to personal and professional events like those described above, Sergio left conservation science and now works with the Sierra Club as an advocate for equitable and inclusive outings programs that allow underrepresented communities to enjoy and protect Nature, elevate Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and shine a light to broader engagement opportunities than the typical scientific or recreational interests of the dominating white conservation movement.

Sergio admires Arizona Congressman and Chair of the Natural Resources Committee in U.S. Congress, Raul Grijalva. An inspiring leader, decision-maker and representative who demonstrates that conservation and care for the environment does not require an academic degree, diplomas or publications.


Thank you so much to Sergio for sharing his experiences with us. You can keep up with him by following him on Instagram.

Stay tuned to hear from more Latinx leaders in conservation this month! In case you missed it, check out our last highlights of Mayor Regina Romero and Mirna Manteca.

This National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we celebrating by highlighting Latinx conservation leaders who inspire us!

Today we introduce you to Mirna Manteca, Mexico Program Road Ecology Coordinator at Wildlands Network. We asked her to share about how her conservation goals have shaped her career and about her experiences as a Latina working in conservation.

I’m Mexico Program Road Ecology Coordinator for Wildlands Network based in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. I lead the road ecology projects in Sonora, working in research, management, and communications in conjunction with NGOs and government agencies to advocate for the establishment of appropriate mitigation structures in our highways and reconnect our landscapes and wildlife. I’m co-chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Transport Working Group of the IUCN’s Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group, and co-founder and co-director of the Asociación Mujeres y Conservación, a volunteer initiative that aims to empower, highlight, and support women conservationists in Latin America. In my day-to-day work, I try to foster local leadership, whether it be a senior road engineer or a young biology student, I believe there is much power in local community-led conservation.


I feel proud to be a Hispanic conservationist! I’m often asked if I feel afraid or unsafe working and living on the Mexico side of the borderlands, and the truth is the only time I have feared for my safety was during bitter experiences with the Border Patrol on the US side. I might have been a professional conservation scientist doing my job, but I was still judged by my nationality and my color.


In spite of the overwhelming conservation and environmental justice issues all over the world, there is a quote that never ceases to inspire me from Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist and indigenous leader murdered in 2016: “Juntémonos y sigamos con esperanza defendiendo y cuidando la sangre de la tierra y los espíritus.”


Thank you so much to Mirna for sharing her experiences. To keep up with her work, you can follow her on Instagram: Mirna, Wildlands NetworkLACTWG, and Asociación Mujeres y Conservación.

Stay tuned for more profiles on Latinx in conservation! In case you missed it, check out our last highlight of Mayor Regina Romero.

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we are taking the opportunity to highlight Latinx leaders working in conservation who inspire us!

First up, we are fortunate to hear from Regina Romero, the Mayor of Tucson, Arizona. We asked her to share about how her conservation goals have shaped her career and about her experiences as a Latina working in conservation.

As the daughter of immigrant farmworkers who were exposed to extreme heat and pesticides, I have and continue to advocate for climate and environmental justice. For 12 years I represented Tucson’s Ward 1 on the City Council, where I championed water and pristine land conservation policies, advanced infill and transit-oriented development, and supported immigrant and workers’ rights. In November 2019, I became the first woman and first Latina Mayor in Tucson. As Mayor, in addition to keeping Tucsonans safe during the global health crisis, I have also been addressing the climate crisis by declaring a local Climate Emergency that commits Tucson to become a net zero city by 2030.

Latinx have always been conservationists, even if we didn’t always use that title. Our abuelas taught us to use renewable off-the-grid energy to dry our clothes in tendederos, to reuse our yogurt and jam containers, and to plant trees and grow vegetables in our homes. I continue to draw inspiration from my elders and from leaders such as Dolores Huerta, whose work intersects the environmental justice, labor rights and feminist movements. As a woman of color, to me “conservation” means holistically addressing racial, environmental, and other social justice issues.


Thank you so much to Mayor Romero for sharing her experiences with us. Make sure to keep up with her on social media by following her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Stay tuned to hear from more Latinx leaders in conservation this month!