Reversing guanaco population decline is a priority

2005 Whitley Award winner, Andrés Novaro has published a paper in the journal, Oryx, which examines the huge decline in guanaco populations in the Patagonian Steppe, an area subject to poaching from oil-exploration trails. In the paper, Andres and his colleagues reported a 93-96% decline in the density of guanaco (Lama guanicoe) in northern Patagonia between the periods of 1982-1983 and 2002-2007, associating it with poachers using seismic lines to access otherwise difficult to reach areas.

The authors suggest that the increase in poaching in recent decades has resulted from both increased access and the number and affluence of urban residents living nearby. This is likely to be the primary cause of the decline in guanacos.  Other factors such as overgrazing by livestock and decreased plant productivity may have also contributed.

As a result of these findings, Andres and his team have worked closely with government agencies, local residents and oil companies to mitigate the poaching threat. In 2006 and 2010, exploration roads were closed by an oil company, which restricted access by unauthorised vehicles to a 220,000 ha area; including two sites where guanaco numbers had plummeted. Andres and his colleagues suggest that by minimising the density of access points at intersections between public roads and seismic lines, the impact of poaching on guanacos and other wildlife can be reduced.

Andres hopes that these closures along with increased ranger patrols will help the guanaco populations to recover in the coming years. His work also highlights the benefit of conservationists collaborating with government and industry to design and implement successful conservation actions.