Biology major gains hands-on experience with endangered animals in Costa Rica

Leonardo Rivera ’22

From an early age, Leonardo Rivera ’22 had a fondness for animals and wildlife conservation. Growing up in tropical Puerto Rico, the biology major on a pre-vet track recalls investigating the habits of hermit crabs in the sand, watching them foraging for food, while other children were content to swim and play in the waves. He had no idea that his love for wild animals would take him first to the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), then to Costa Rica.

It wasn’t until 2017 that Rivera knew veterinary medicine was the career path he wanted to pursue. In the fall of that year, Hurricane Maria hit her homeland of Puerto Rico, marking the strongest storm to hit the island in 90 years. The storm claimed nearly 3,000 lives and over $ 90 billion in damage, leaving many homes destroyed and families in economic despair. Pets have also felt the ill effects, with many people dropping off their animals in shelters or leaving them on the streets unable to care for them. Rivera’s love for animals led him to volunteer at a local animal shelter following Maria’s suite. From that moment he knew he was destined for a career in veterinary medicine.

Group of student interns pose in front of a wall panel at Costa Rica Animal Rescue

Leonardo Rivera (back row, left) with other trainees from the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center.

Rivera says he first became interested in Syracuse University when he visited his sister, now a former student, on campus. When it came time to choose his own academic path, he chose Syracuse for two main reasons: the impressive laboratory facilities of the Life Sciences Complex and the academic and pre-health counseling resources provided by A&S, which guides undergraduate students through the required courses and experiential learning elements so that they are prepared for vocational school.

Rivera says that throughout his time in Syracuse, the Pre-Health Counseling Office helped him navigate the required pre-professional courses and develop an academic plan. After speaking with his advisor, who stressed the importance of having an extracurricular experience on his resume, he contacted the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, which works with injured and sick wildlife. He says he was drawn to their program because it gave him practical experience in rehabilitating endangered species.

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