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Guanaco management in Patagonian rangelands: a conservation opportunity in the brink of collapse
BALDI R.; NOVARO A.
Simposio; Wild Rangelands: Conservation in the World's Grazing Ecosystems; 2006
Zoological Society of London
The guanaco is the only large, widely distributed native herbivore in the Southern Cone. However, guanacos have undergone a dramatic population decline from around 10 million to half a million individuals during the last 100 years, after traditional sheep ranching overtook most of the Patagonian steppe. Competition with sheep, hunting and habitat degradation due to overgrazing resulted in substantially reduced guanaco densities, local extirpation, and restriction to marginal, low-quality habitat and fragmentation of guanaco populations. Protected areas encompass less than 1% of the 600,000 km2 of Patagonian steppe. High-density populations are rare and confined either in these scarce and small areas, or inhabiting remote, degraded places unsuitable for sheep ranching. Today, sheep ranching is still the main economic activity and guanaco poaching continues to be widespread. In addition, the few high-density populations of guanacos are under increasing pressure to be exploited for wool production. We envision a network of protected areas within a matrix of sustainable management to ensure the long-term persistence of guanacos.During the last five years, at least twenty five large sheep ranches have begun managing guanacos by conducting live capture and shearing, producing high quality wool for export, but affecting many, and perhaps most, of the largest remaining populations. If properly managed, this or other types of use could help maintain and even promote the recovery of large populations in the matrix between protected areas.However, if improperly managed, or if this type of use develops into guanaco farms, as some local agencies and managers advocate, the last opportunity to conserve the dominant wildlife species of the Patagonian steppe will be lost.