It’s hard to decide where to begin with how much I’ve learned through my internship with Sky Island Alliance. But now that I’m moving on to other adventures and more school, I realize how lucky I’ve been to collaborate with them for the past couple years on their Border Wildlife Study and to help with photo identifications. I thought I knew a lot about animals before, but now I know so much more thanks to this wonderful opportunity.
During my time with SIA, I learned how to identify species across the region, submit wildlife photos from remote cameras, and pinpoint water resources using their Spring Seeker app, just to name a few things.
One highlight from the experience came last summer, in July 2022, when I had the chance to take a fun trip with other SIA volunteers, interns, and staff to get hands-on experience in southern Arizona’s borderlands. As a group, we observed many desert animals in their natural habitats — wildlife such as cottontails, red-tailed hawks, tarantulas, and a variety of snakes. We even discovered the aftermath of a mountain lion’s kill. We camped in the Patagonia Mountains for three days during our trip, all while enjoying the beauties and wonders of the desert.
There were many aspects of the trip that pleasantly surprised me. Initially, I thought we’d only be doing field work — so I didn’t expect so much excitement to occur. But as each day went on, we learned more, hiking to change out photo traps along the U.S.-Mexico border while learning how to identify animals via their tracks, pellets, and remains. We also had time to stargaze during the darkest hours of the night. This trip was, without a doubt, the highlight of my internship, and it really inspired me to reconnect and advocate for the health of the land even more in my everyday life.
This was the main instance where I was able to work with SIA in person. But even working remotely from my home in Phoenix was rewarding. Mostly, I assisted with the Border Wildlife Study, identifying big cats, bears, coyotes, coatis, badgers, deer, and other species traveling our Sky Islands’ river corridors. The animals migrate in order to hunt, mate, and find new territories. But these essential movements have been disrupted by border walls and other barriers. The goal of SIA’s Border Wildlife Study is to document the movements of these desert critters and to learn more about how they’re affected so we can be better advocates.
I’ve truly enjoyed every moment of this internship. And it’s helped me gain a greater understanding of myself and the natural world. As a Native American, indigenous to this land, I feel a powerful connection with these fascinating creatures, even more after this experience. Animals carry great significance for the Native tribes of the borderlands such as the O’odham, Walapai, Kwatsan, Azteca, Pascua Yaqui, and Cocopah. In fact, the majority of the stories we pass down to our youth through oral traditions contain animals unique to the drylands of this desert — animals like coyotes, foxes, buzzards, badgers, and bears.
Everyone can learn from the animals if we take the time to observe and be with them in their natural environments. And we all share a need for the natural resources of the desert: plants, sun, and water are basics that every living being needs to survive.
As a student working in the field of medicine (as a pharmacy technician), I understand just how significant and healing desert flora can be; I see it everyday in the prescriptions I fill. The Indigenous people living among the Sonoran desert have known this too. For centuries, they’ve used plants like creosote, mesquite, saguaro, and agave as powerful medicine to help our people stay healthy and strong. Every little piece of the desert — its animals, plants, water, landscapes — has a purpose.
Thanks to this experience with Sky Island Alliance, I’ve learned so much more about the importance of understanding and protecting these precious life forms and their homes — and for this I will always be grateful. Many thanks to SIA’s staff and volunteers for everything you do!