Rural people in the northern Patagonia habitat of the Andean cat make a subsistence living off of goats.Many of these people are transhumant herders who travel along traditional routes with their flocks up to 200 km between winter and summer feeding grounds, accompanied by their families and sometimes even the children’s school teacher. Goats destroy habitat, compete with native wildlife, and are eaten by native carnivoreswhich, in turn, are killed by herders to prevent predation. Decades of overgrazing and an increasingly drier climate have made it more difficult for herders to survive, threatening their livelihoods and culture. The Patagonian Andean cat is a new population of Andean cats that was previsouly only known from the Andean puna, was discovered in 2008 by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The primary threat for the Andean Cat isconsidered to be traditional hunting followed by prey reduction and habitat loss and fragmentation.
The Wildlife Conservation Society working with the herders has found that local, mixed-breed dogs can work very well to deter predation and stop herders from killing carnivores. They are inexpensive to obtain and keep, and are adapted to local conditions.
In addition, people need an alternative to make a better living off of fewer goats. In turn, this will help habitat to recover, and reduce competition and conflict with wildlife. WCS is working to improve the resilience to climate change of people and wildlife of the northern Patagonian steppe by optimizing goat husbandry through the production and development of Wildlife Friendly® cashmere.
The local goat is a unique breed that evolved from the Spanish stock brought here over 100 years ago. It was recently discovered that this breed in northern Patagonia produces a fine undercoat of cashmere. Unlike in other parts of the world, where demand for cashmere has led to overstocking of goats, destruction of habitat, and reduction of wildlife, in Patagonia, goats are already living on the edge, and quality cashmere can only be produced through better, sustainable management of flocks. The supply of this fine fiber will always be limited.
The Conservation Enterprise
Herders who agree not to kill Andean and other wild cats, and to manage their herds sustainably, receive Wildlife Friendly® certification of their cashmere. This fine fiber is precious for its quality, its scarcity, its contribution to preserving a way of life, and, in contrast to the very fine, more widely available Asian cashmeres, its contribution to the conservation of northern Patagonian wildlife and habitats.
Patagonian Steppe Program, Wildlife Conservation Society – Argentina
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