The Andean Cat Leopardus jacobita
is one of most endangered felids in the world and occurs almost exclusively in the Puna ecoregion of Argentina. Data collected since 1998 shows that Andean Cats have a fragmented distribution and are threatened by habitat loss, hunting and possibly competition with other carnivores.
As one of this year's top award winning projects, the team aims to use the Andean Cat as a flagship species for conservation of Puna biodiversity, focusing on the Greater Vilama Landscape, a remote and scarcely inhabited wilderness area in the north of Argentina. To improve understanding of the ecological needs of Puna carnivores, the team will use innovative research and monitoring protocols.
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The team will work with local communities to influence attitudes about carnivores and train local 'wildlife monitors' to participate in the project and encourage the designation of a locally-managed protected area. Through these activities, the team hopes to enhance the profile of the Andean Cat among local communities and spread the message that wildlife conservation is compatible with development.
According to Mauro Lucherini, the project leader, "The challenges that we are facing to protect the earth's biodiversity are constantly changing. In 1998, when we started working on the Andean Cat we were mainly worried about direct human persecution, and now we recognize that we also have to worry about issues like climate change and its effects on the high-altitude ecosystem where this endangered carnivore lives."
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To meet these challenges, training and capacity building is becoming increasingly important, and the high-level training that the CLP award winners receive is just as important as the grant itself. However, as Mauro points out, conservationists face numerous challenges in the field that require more than technical skills or training.
"When we started our work, we had no other option than to walk the whole day searching for signs of presence", says Mauro. "Now we can rely on camera traps to get a great deal of information on this elusive creature – but we still walk the whole day to set and check them! And we still have to do it in very challenging conditions, including a lack of oxygen, strong winds, and burning sun. These are challenges that can only be met through motivation and perseverance."
Mauro adds, "I hope that our project will not only be successful at promoting the long-term conservation of the Andean Cat and its unique natural habitat but also at inspiring the next generation of conservation leaders."
PROGRAM: Learn more about the Conservation Leadership Programme.