A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
The Uncertain Future of Wild Cats In The Argentine Espinal
March 31, 2011Posted by on
The Argentine Espinal is an arid grassland and shrubland mosaic that has been greatly modified since the 1600’s, when cattle became the prominent species on the landscape. Found today only in fragmented patches, the Espinal was once home to a great diversity of birds, plants and mammals, among them a unique guild of felids composed of the Pampas cat Leopardus colocolo, Geoffroy’s cat Leopardus geoffroyi, Jaguarundi Puma yagouaroundi and Puma Puma concolor.
A major point of interest is that in the neighbouring Pampas grasslands, only low density populations of the Geoffroy’s cat have been able to survive, while other felids have already disappeared from most of it. Pumas are thought to be extirpated or at least very rare in most of eastern Argentina, but there is no reliable information about their distribution. However, it is known that this is their last stronghold in this largely modified region.This means the Espinal is on the frontline of extinction for cats.
As a consequence of ranching becoming the main industry in this area, the natural woodlands have been heavily logged and natural prey populations largely exterminated. The region has been overgrazed by domestic animals, and increased human-carnivore conflicts occur when carnivores prey on livestock.
Recently, weather conditions and governmental policies have favoured sheep over cattle ranching. The increased availability of sheep, a much easier prey for Pumas, has exacerbated conflicts with local people. The pressure of ranchers on governmental authority to permit Puma hunting is now extremely strong, and may bring the Puma population to the brink of local extinction.
Cats are particularly vulnerable to local extinction in fragmented landscapes because of their large ranges, low population numbers and direct persecution by humans, due not only to predator control, but also hunting for the skin trade. Thus, to create effective management strategies, a thorough understanding of both the ecological requirements of the cats in the Espinal and the dynamics of human-carnivore interactions is needed. The current crisis also requires urgent conflict mitigation measures as well as awareness activities.
The goal of this recently started project is to address this emergency by 1) implementing immediate actions to mitigate conflicts and 2) developing a longer term plan for sustainable management of carnivore populations in the region. With this in mind, researchers will use a range of tools and strategies:
- Investigation – compare abundance of cats in areas largely modified by human activities with that in areas where the natural habitats of the Espinal are still dominant.
- Management – understand rural people’s conception of and attitudes towards wild cats, and identify the presence of and reasons for conflicts.
- Education – increase local awareness about the ecological importance of carnivores to the natural health of the ecosystem.
Next (Southern Hemisphere) summer, researchers plan to use repeated interviews to model felid occupation over large areas, and compare these estimates with results of a camera trap survey in a more restricted area. Simultaneously, pending adequate funding, they will test measures to mitigate livestock losses by Pumas, and start an awareness campaign targeting both adults and teenagers of rural towns.
Estela Luengos Vidal, Claudi Manfredi & Mauro Lucherini, GECM
The Grupo de Ecologia Comportamental de Mamiferos (GECM) is a team of Argentine researchers, conservationists and educators devoted to explore solutions to the conservation issues of South American mammals They have particular expertise on the most elusive carnivores, and are frequent recipients of grants from ISEC Canada.
See also the Photo Gallery: Felids of The Argentine Espinal
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