Managing NGO(s), country: Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Regional
Project director(s): Andrés José Novaro
Summary: Guanacos (Lama guanicoe), relatives of the llama, were once the dominant herbivores on the Patagonian steppe that once had a major impact on plant distribution, abundance, and composition in the region, and also served as the major prey species for pumas. Today, less than two percent of the original population of guanacos remains, and these mostly sedentary populations are highly fragmented. In Argentina’s northern Patagonia region, remnant populations of guanacos live in both the Payunia and Auca Mahuida Protected Areas. However, heavy oil extraction and livestock husbandry over the last 20 years has resulted in a reduction and fragmentation of the guanaco population that threatens a complete loss of connectivity between the Payunia and Auca Mahuida populations. Thousands of miles of oil pipelines have caused localized habitat degradation and increased access for poachers. Livestock herds are overstocked and poorly managed, resulting in low profitability, habitat degradation, and increased competition with wildlife and susceptibility to diseases. In an effort to protect guanaco populations, and at the request of local communities and government agencies, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) strengthened local capacity to ensure that the Payunia and Auca Mahuida protected areas and the guanaco corridor are more effectively managed to reduce the negative impacts of extractive industries, livestock husbandry, and live shearing of guanacos.
Annual budget and donors: $134,404 from the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Argentina; Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, United States; Panthera, United States; United States Fish and Wildlife Service – Wildlife Without Borders Program.
Principle Accomplishments: Carried out two workshops about monitoring impacts of extractive industries on wildlife in two provinces, attended by 48 government agency personnel; pre-and post-training evaluations indicated a significant improvement of participants’ knowledge of the subject matter; carried out informal field training of 12 park rangers from Payunia and Auca Mahuida in monitoring techniques; held four meetings with 50 people from the Payún Matrú Cooperative to prepare for the annual guanaco shearing and to develop protocols for processing the wool; trained 15 park rangers and two cooperative members to survey the guanaco population; helped the cooperative build the capture structure and carry out two round-ups and shearing activities; made 70 visits to 30 goat herders and recruited 20 to participate in pilot projects to assess and manage livestock health, range quality and quantity, and to reduce conflicts with native carnivores; carried out the first courses to train government agency personnel in the evaluation, monitoring, and mitigation of impacts of oil and mining activities on wildlife and their habitat; helped local goat herders to increase their income through improved management of their herds; completed the first season of collecting “green” cashmere from goats in the Payunia-Auca Mahuida guanaco corridor; convinced 14 herders to sell over 900 old, non-reproductive nanny goats and facilitated their marketing to French consumers.
Lessons Learned: Working with local people who live alongside wildlife and whose activities sometimes pose threats to wildlife is indispensable for conservation. This type of work is a long-term effort that can take several years to show results and requires specific skills that wildlife biologists don’t necessarily have. Working in collaboration with professionals in other disciplines who have experience in extension work may increase the effectiveness of conservation initiatives involving rural populations. By building capacity among government management agencies and local people, the project helped improve prospects for the overall long-term sustainability of the Payunia-Auca Mahuida guanaco corridor, as these stakeholders are now able to manage wildlife and their habitat to address threats in a manner that is amenable to wildlife conservation and connectivity of the corridor.