Promoting the coexistence between native fauna and local inhabitants
A rugged, vast landscape shaped by ancient volcanoes and incessant winds, the steep mountains, deep canyons, and high plateaus of the Patagonian and Andean steppe harbor a unique wildlife community. The 270,000-square-mile Patagonian Steppe is the last stronghold of the guanaco, including the world’s largest migratory population of guanacos, and is home to the southernmost population of the endangered Andean cat, Darwin’s rhea, Andean condor, many endemic species of plants and lizards, and tens of thousands of swans, flamingos, and upland geese. The Andean Steppe also harbors large populations of vicuñas.
Although seemingly wild and timeless, human activities have greatly altered Argentina’s steppes. Guanacos and vicuñas were the main source of food for pumas and Andean condors, and their grazing shaped the landscape. Today, these camelid populations have been greatly reduced 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, with the paucity of native prey, today prey heavily on livestock. This can be catastrophic to livestock producers, who kill all carnivores in retaliation, including the globally endangered Andean cat.
Construction of more than 25,000 miles of oil exploration roads has exposed previously inaccessible areas to illegal hunting. Many destructive activities are allowed inside reserves, leaving them vulnerable to threats from exploration and extraction of oil and minerals and livestock grazing.
We work to restore and maintain wildness in protected areas of the Patagonian and Andean Steppe using a collaborative, science-based approach. In addition, we work with provincial and national government agencies to increase the area under protection and effectively manage reserves. We also assist livestock producers who live within and around protected areas to manage livestock to be compatible with the needs of wildlife.
Through strategic alliances with national and local authorities, research institutions, civil society and local producers, we have helped to conserve some of the key distribution areas of guanacos, native carnivores and Andean condors in the Patagonian and Andean Steppes. We worked with oil companies and government to restrict access by poachers to an area of over 2,200 square kilometers, by effectively closing oil roads and monitoring exclusion of unauthorized vehicles. We have helped develop management plans for six protected areas and for key species, and provided technical advice and conservation training to several management agencies and almost 200 park rangers and other technical personnel. Combining ecological, economic and social research approaches, we have helped to design wildlife-friendly production models for the steppe that are more ecologically and economically sustainable than traditional systems.