20 in their 20s

While visiting her extended family in Guatemala, 11-year-old Lucrecia Aguilar walked through the rainforest with a heightened sense of awareness. With electricity in the air, she knew without a doubt there were jaguars near. 

Aguilar vividly recalls that moment in the middle of the jungle and how it furthered her childhood desire to pursue wildlife conservation. As a Rice student, she studied pumas in New Mexico, jaguars in Belize and encountered her first big cat in the Tanzanian wild. 

“Being in spaces with big cats just has this energy. When I’m in that place, … it’s the best part of what I do. … But conservation can be sexist and racist and not done for the right reasons. The destruction of nature is so much worse than what you can imagine when reading a textbook,” she says. “There are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. than there are in the wild all over the world.”

As a Rice student, she studied pumas in New Mexico, jaguars in Belize and encountered her first big cat in the Tanzanian wild.

In her senior year, Aguilar won a coveted Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. After graduation, she traveled to 17 countries to explore big cat conservation and human-wildlife coexistence. With big cats on the brink of extinction, Aguilar is determined to find solutions for these endangered species. She’s now pursuing a Ph.D. in conservation ecology at Harvard University. Her interest in data analysis and her fieldwork experiences have led her to also look at underrepresented minorities and how they experience conservation. 

While Aguilar continues her studies and anxiously waits to get back in the field when it’s safe to travel again, she has also been answering questions from friends about Netflix’s hit documentary, “Tiger King.” With the show in the spotlight, Aguilar hopes people will talk about the future and how big cats impact key parts of our ecosystem. 

“We are running out of time,” she says.

Read more “20 in Their 20s” profiles here.

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