Getting to know Team Sloth: Meet Patricio (a.k.a. Pato)!
This month we would like to introduce you to Patricio Silfeni; chief agronomist and manager of the Connected Gardens project. He has been working for SloCo for over a year and recently coordinated the construction and development of our new 3000-tree forest nursery. From Patagonia to Costa Rica, here is his story.
What originally led you to the conservation field?
I think it’s something natural. Something that comes from within. I have always felt that connection with nature. During adolescence, I strayed a bit from that path and lost my connection with nature along the way. About 10 years later, I found it again and I started volunteering in different national parks when I was in my mid 20’s.
The love that I had for nature since I was a child came back. The truth is that at the time, I pursued money more than my passions, and when I came back in contact with nature and followed my heart everything changed for the better.
What is your role at SloCo?
I am an agronomist and I coordinate the Connected Gardens project. In this program, we connect gaps in the canopy by planting trees and installing Sloth Crossing canopy bridges in order to bring back these biological corridors that the animals once had and have lost.
What I always say about Connected Gardens, is that it is a project in which everyone wins. It is a positive feedback loop. Very generous people from all around the world donate money, we have the capacity and the ability to do the work and other people (who are also participants – the property owners), open the doors to their homes so that we can plant and connect the populated zones.
But, we all engage in a good deal of multitasking. I studied digital marketing and so I help SloCo with that as well.
Who is your role model?
The people who have inspired me the most are my parents. My parents have given me all the opportunities that I needed and all the freedom in the world to choose the path that suited me the best. They have always supported me.
Carl Sagan is often a guide for me and my thoughts, an incredibly noble person who has dedicated his whole life to developing an understanding so that we and the world can be better off. He was a hyper tolerant person who understands the motivations of other people. I feel a great deal of affinity for his way of thinking.
What does a regular workday look like for you?
The best thing of all is that a “regular” day is not regular. Every day is different, and that brings me great joy. I can bring together the majority of my interests and passions in this work: nature, photography, learning new things, interacting with people from all around the world.
In a typical week, we plant, we prepare soils, we fill pots, plant saplings, plant seeds, go to a person’s house to plant trees, it could be once, twice or three times that we return with trees. In the span of a week we also usually install a sloth crossing, take photos and videos of the process so that we can show our donors and anyone who is interested in the work that we are doing.
I also work on Search Engine Optimization for SloCo to improve the content on our website.
What is it like working in Costa Rica?
Well, it has always been a dream of mine. I’ve been here for almost five years, and every day I like it more here. When someone says that you have found your place in the world, that is what it is like living here. Working on the SloCo team is the best part of it.
What does conservation mean to you?
I think that the conservation work that we do as individual humans is a grain of sand in an immense sea. What I try to do is contribute my grain of sand towards conservation. I like to believe it is possible to be a change-maker.
I don’t have kids but I think of my nephews and the next generations, I want them to be able to enjoy nature in the ways that we do now, and the previous generations. If we continue to develop at this rate, we are going to destroy everything, and of course, I am very concerned about that.
The fact of the matter is that I do my part knowing that it is very difficult to change the path we are on. I know that this work could help me, my community, even if it is still a grain of sand on a larger scale. But I would always prefer to do that over doing nothing.
I believe that conservation, at this point, is a monumental task. It has been 200 years since industrialization began to undermine our natural systems. Realistically, we need the efforts, of groups like ours, as well as whole communities to be able to transform the situation. My hope for humanity is to achieve this grand transformation. Our work is just a small part but is connected to this larger movement.
How did you first become involved in conservation?
I first became involved doing surveys of shorebirds in Patagonia. Birdwatching was my therapy, I would go out to walk in nature to photograph birds, snakes, lizards, any type of wild animal that I would come across, including plants as well because there were so many plants that I loved. I would walk for hours and hours alone to register the presence of species of plants and animals.
After this, I began to collaborate on campaigns with Fundación Inalafquen, monitoring and banding shorebirds, and later I started volunteering in national parks, such as Iguazu National Park. I began a series of trips in all the possible places with the excuse of registering the presence of species.
In reality, I became involved in conservation many years before when I was taking photos of species and uploading them to websites such as, EcoRegistros, which is dedicated to citizen science. The thing is, I didn’t see it as conservation at the time.
How did you end up in Costa Rica?
After I was working as a volunteer in Iguazu National Park, which is known for its waterfalls in Argentina, we went to visit a relative whose partner is from Costa Rica. When we arrived here, we began to get to know the place and the people. We fell in love with Costa Rica and decided to stay.
I worked for about three years at a wildlife rescue center as a guide/naturalist, thanks to the previous experience that I had working as a guide in Patagonia and the experience that I had working with wildlife in the national parks.
These years were a great learning experience and opportunity to get to know lots of people, their many stories and different realities. I met Rebecca (the founder of SloCo), and shortly thereafter I started working full-time for the Sloth Conservation Foundation on the Connected Gardens Project.
What is one of your favorite things about sloths?
My love of Costa Rica goes hand in hand with why I love sloths so much. I love their slow pace; how they take their time to think through things before taking their next step.
Outside of work, what do you like to do?
I like to enjoy time with my friends and family. This for me is the most important thing: quality time with family and friends (usually talking about nature).
About the Connected Gardens Project
In 2019 we launched the Connected Gardens Project to mitigate the impacts of urban development on the native wildlife in Costa Rica. The main objective of this project is to generate biological corridors for biodiversity by increasing habitat connectivity and availability within and between private properties and other fragments of adjoining forests.
This is being achieved by reforesting altered lands with native species of trees and through the installation of natural and artificial wildlife bridges. In the SloCo forest nursery, we are growing a variety of trees species that are favored by sloths, including cecropia (guarumo), sangrillo, mountain almond, and beach almond. The saplings are then planted in target areas and are marked with signage to promote the care and protection of the tree by the local community.