Love wildlife? Wish you had a place online to share your photos, videos, and stories with other wild enthusiasts—kind of like a Facebook for wildlife lovers? Well, look no further than Biofaces, a new website meant to “make wildlife loving people happy,” according to its creator, Leonardo Avelino Duarte.
Duarte is not who would expect to kickstart a social media site for wildlife aficionados. A successful Brazilian lawyer, Duarte says he was inspired to start the site to meet new people who shared his love for the planet’s creatures.
“You can imagine there are few people around me with whom I could share my passion for biodiversity,” Duarte told mongabay.com in a recent interview. “I therefore imagined a virtual space where I could meet other like-minded people and with whom we could share our wildlife encounters, a space were we could organize and document these encounter and list how many species we had observed or documented. For me it is a real need to be in constant contact with biodiversity and witness the life that shares our world.”
Duarte says his lifelong love of wild things started in childhood and was, in part, propelled by how little was known about most of the world’s animals.
“We know almost nothing about several species,” he notes. “I am also surprised at how people can live without knowing about all this beauty and wonder that surrounds us. Knowing about Nature is important and good for us.”
While the website is meant as a place for online interaction, Duarte also hopes it helps conservation efforts on the ground through making connections and raising awareness. Indeed, several conservation and research groups have already begun using Biofaces. With this the site may also help gather information on little-known species as it aggregates sightings from around the world.
“We need to encourage and make wildlife observation a popular hobby,” says Duarte. “It is a healthy hobby. The more people we have practicing this hobby the more people we will have converted to the conservation cause. We protect and defend what we love.”
An interview with Leonardo Avelino Duarte
Mongabay: What inspired you to put together this website?
Leonardo Avelino Duarte: Loneliness inspired me! I am a lawyer so as you can imagine there are few people around me with whom I could share my passion for biodiversity. I therefore imaged a virtual space where I could meet other like-minded people and with whom we could share our wildlife encounters, a space were we could organize and document these encounter and list how many species we had observed or documented. For me it is a real need to be in constant contact with biodiversity and witness the life that shares our world. It is my way of expressing my love for life, something powerful that makes me feel good. I know I am not the only one to feel this way. I needed to know who these other people are.
Mongabay: What is the goal of the website, i.e. social or educational or both?
Leonardo Avelino Duarte: The main objective of this website is to make wildlife loving people happy, enabling them to share with like-minded people their wildlife experiences. At the same time this site aims to raise awareness of the incredible precious diversity of life and how rare and threatened it is. For this reason we follow the IUCN Red List criteria, and mention the status of a species as well as basic behavioral data.
Mongabay: What is the history of the site?
Leonardo Avelino Duarte: I was in a ranch with a friend. At the time I occupied the prestigious job of president of the bar association of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and for this reason did not share my passion for wildlife on social media and instead discussed politics or matters related to my profession. On the other hand, I really missed not being able to share my passion with similar people. So, out of blue I told my friend I was going to create a website for people who love observing wildlife from anywhere in the world. So, I imagined exactly what I wanted and put it down on paper and looked for a programmer. Less than six months after that initial conversation the web site was online.
Mongabay: How did your interest in wildlife develop?
Leonardo Avelino Duarte: For as long as I can remember I have always loved wildlife. Always. Curiosity and the need to learn more about life that surrounds us has been an almost basic need. My family owns a ranch and when I was a kid I wanted to know everything about the animals there: where and how they lived, what they ate etc… Why does a particular bird only occur in the forest, why can some species survive in cities and others not? Why are some animals so hard to see or others not? I therefore began reading and studying. I was really shocked to discover how little we actually know about wildlife. We know almost nothing about several species. I am also surprised at how people can live without knowing about all this beauty and wonder that surrounds us. Knowing about Nature is important and good for us.
Mongabay: How do you hope a website like this can help aid conservation efforts?
Leonardo Avelino Duarte: The website can help in several ways. Firstly, because it can bring together those at the forefront of conservation, working in the field and conducting research to protect wildlife, with those people who admire and defend wildlife. I really feel that the conservationists need the support of the latter. Furthermore we need to encourage and make wildlife observation a popular hobby. It is a healthy hobby. The more people we have practicing this hobby the more people we will have converted to the conservation cause. We protect and defend what we love.
In addition to all this, the site can gather and promote valuable scientific information, stimulate registers of rare species that have almost never been seen in Nature (as for example the Amazon weasel (Mustela africana)), promote and share places that need to be immediately protected as hotspots, and most importantly raise awareness on the importance and rarity of some species that need to be urgently protected to prevent our world from becoming biologically poor.
Deep down my objective with this site is to convert the highest possible number of people to the hobby of wildlife observation. To create an army of people defending wildlife and nature…That would be great.
Mongabay: Will you tell us about one of your favorite wildlife encounters?
Leonardo Avelino Duarte: I think all wildlife encounters are unique and each one is special to me. However some encounters are absolutely sensational and two come to mind. When I saw a rare pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo), near Corumba in Mato Grosso, Brazil. I was so happy that I forgot to take pictures and the cat stayed without moving for a long time allowing me to get fairly close. Pampas cats are extremely rare and almost never appear in camera traps. It is easier to see big cats such as jaguars or pumas than pampas cat and I feel very privileged to have seen one.
Another amazing wildlife encounter was when I saw an ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), fishing amongst lots of jacare caimans in the Pantanal. The ocelot did not seem to care about all the caimans competing with it to capture fish. It was a magical moment.