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Latino Daily News

Tuesday November 15, 2011

Meet Marisa Tellez, the Latina Crocodile Hunter

Meet Marisa Tellez, the Latina Crocodile Hunter

Photo: Meet Marisa Tellez, the Latina Crocodile Hunter

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When Marisa Tellez was younger, while her friends were playing with dolls, she was eagerly learning about the world’s top predators. Today, as a PhD candidate at UCLA, Tellez is quickly becoming a top crocodile parasite.

Occasionally dubbed the Latina Crocodile Hunter, Tellez grew up in suburban Los Angeles.

She recently told Latino LA, “Not a day went by that I wasn’t imaging my future career as a leading apex predator scientist, broadening the world’s knowledge and respect for these magnificent creatures. After years of self-education on the world’s predators, I developed a great passion for understanding the scientific and evolutionary background of one of the oldest lineages of predators on our planet- the crocodile.”

Realizing that conservation and scientific research of crocodiles was relatively minimal, Tellez decided to try to broaden the world’s knowledge of the reptiles.

She know works to bring conservation aid to 18 of the 23 endangered crocodilian species, traveling to the Amazon, Mexico, Belize, and various places in the U.S.’s southern states. She primarily researches crocodilian parasites, and is curious as to whether “the antagonizing co-evolutionary race between parasites and crocodiles over millions of years contributed to the hosts’ potent immune system.”

Those of the crocodile family have managed to survive centuries of changing environment, but have always been able to evolve to suit their environmental needs, while fellow animals have been unable to in some regions. Tellez’s research looks to determine if parasites have aided in that evolution.

Her research, while endlessly interesting for her, is not without its dangers.

On a trip to Belize, Tellez learned the importance of communication while her group was attempting to rescue an abused 5-foot Morelet’s Crocodile. Due to a miscommunication between those involved, in an instant, her hand was in the mouth of the animal.

Though her hand is now scarred, she also received a neat memento, a crocodile tooth! She gave the tooth to her father, who then had a jeweler friend make a necklace out of it.

Today, wearing the scar and the necklace as reminders to stay on her toes, Tellez continues her research at UCLA where she is working towards her PhD, and says they also remind her of the day she and the crocodiles “became one.”