WCS Argentina

Andean Patagonia Steppe Landscape

A rugged, vast landscape shaped by ancient volcanoes and incessant winds, the steep mountains, deep canyons, and high plateaus of the Andean Patagonian Steppe Landscape harbor a unique wildlife community that fascinated and inspired Darwin nearly two centuries ago. The 20,000-square-mile Landscape is a stronghold of the guanaco, Darwin’s rhea and Andean condor. It contains the world’s largest migratory population of guanacos, the southernmost population of the endangered Andean cat, many endemic species of plants and lizards, and tens of thousands of swans, flamingos, and upland geese.  Approximately 1000 rural families barely eke out a subsistence living raising goats and sheep across the landscape’s vast expanse. About half of these families migrate seasonally with their goats, traveling up to 200 miles between winter and summer ranges. These poor herders and a handful of ranchers share the landscape with multinational oil and mining companies that produce 50% of Argentina´s oil and gas, representing 4% of the national economy.


Conservation Challenges

Although seemingly wild and timeless, a century of human activities has greatly altered the Andean Patagonian Steppe. Early explorers described huge herds of guanacos migrating hundreds of miles with the seasons. At that time, guanacos were the main source of food for pumas and Andean condors, and their grazing shaped the landscape. Today, most of the great Patagonian migrations have been lost. Guanaco populations have been reduced more than 90% by hunting and competition for food with sheep and goats, and water birds such as flamingos and red shovelers have lost their wetland nesting habitat to livestock grazing. Pumas were almost extirpated from the region in the 1950s, but they have since rebounded, and with the paucity of guanacos, today prey heavily on livestock.  This can be catastrophic to small herders, who kill all carnivores in retaliation, including the globally endangered Andean cat.  Overgrazing by goats and sheep destroys grazing lands for both guanacos and livestock, decreasing incomes and threatening the livelihoods of herders. Guanacos are also killed by rural people as they compete with livestock for food and water in this arid landscape.  Oil and mineral exploration and extraction continue to expand.

Construction of more than 25,000 miles of oil exploration roads in recent decades by the oil industry has exposed previously inaccessible areas to illegal hunting. Though 14% of this Landscape lies in provincial protected areas, many destructive activities are allowed inside reserves, leaving them vulnerable to threats from exploration and extraction of oil and minerals to livestock grazing. Looking ahead, global climate change will likely increase aridity on the steppe and is anticipated to intensify the effects of overgrazing and the use of water by oil and mining companies.


Conservation Approach

WCS uses a collaborative, science-based approach to restore and maintain wildness in protected areas of the Andean Patagonian Steppe Landscape while ensuring that the private sector reduces threats to wildlife on private lands between protected areas. We work with provincial and national government agencies to increase the area under protection and effectively manage reserves. We assist goat herders to manage livestock to be compatible with the needs of wildlife, even under the increasing aridity expected with climate change. We also work with oil and mining companies to apply best practices that more than offset the negative impacts of their activities on biodiversity.



WCS Argentina
Amenabar 1595 piso 2 oficina 19, C1426AKC CABA

Key Staff

Martin Funes
Director of Andean Patagonian Steppe Landscape
Andrés Novaro
Director of Patagonian and Andean Steppe Program
All Andean Patagonia Steppe Landscape Staff >>

Featured Partners

Centro de Ecología Aplicada del Neuquén
Dirección de Recursos Naturales Renovables de Mendoza
Instituto de Investigación en Biodiversidad y Medioambiente