Citizen science, working in the field and how to wear a goucho hat: catch up with José Sarasola in August's social media takeover.
José Sarasola won a 2019 Whitley Award for his work protecting the Endangered Chaco eagle in Argentina.
Human activities in this semi-arid landscape have put the remaining 1,000 birds at risk, from drowning in sheer-sided water tanks to being electrocuted by overhead powerlines. José is finding solutions to these problems, protecting not only the Chaco eagle but the other species that call this extreme habitat home.
We caught up for August’s #TakeoverTuesday to learn more about José’s work with NGO, CECARA, and the Chaco Eagle Project in particular. Read our Q&A below or rewatch our live chat covering citizen science, field work and goucho hats.
Next month we’ll be joined by the conservation legend that is 2005 Whitley Gold Award winner, Charu Mishra. Hot off the heels of his 24 hour marathon, raising awareness of snow leopards in the high Himalayas, he joins us on Tuesday 29th September to explain why the species is so special. Tune in across WFN’s instagram, twitter and facebook.
Q1. What inspired you to pursue a career in conservation?
I have been attracted to nature since my early childhood. I used to horse ride and camp in the same habitats where I am now working to protect the Chaco eagle. Later, as a natural resources undergrad student, I assisted on a raptor project that motivated me to follow a career in conservation. I have since founded and am now Director of the Centre for the Study and Conservation of Raptors in Argentina (CECARA).
Q2. What was your first experience WITH A CHACO EAGLE like?
My first encounter was far from a pleasant experience. It was a young Chaco eagle, shot by local ranchers, hanging dead from a wire fence. That sad image inspired me to take on the challenge of protecting this species.
Q3. What do you love most about the CHACO EAGLE AND ITS HABITAT?
Arid and semi-arid biomes are amazing, fragile habitats with a lot of very peculiar species adapted to extreme environmental conditions. The Chaco eagle, which local people call the “weeping eagle” due its particular call and sound, is the most amazing among them. Listen to its call.
Q4. What is the main threat facing the CHACO EAGLE?
Identified main threats for the Chaco eagle are all human related. They include habitat destruction, human persecution, electrocution by power lines and accidental drowning in water tanks…
Water is scarce in this dry region of central Argentina and farmers often store water in tanks. They attract birds and other wildlife in need of a drink but if a bird falls in and its feathers become waterlogged, it is impossible for it to escape. My team have installed 310 rescue ramps, in collaboration with around 100 landowners over a 485,000ha area. These simple wire structures don’t require any ongoing maintenance and allow eagles, as well as the other wildlife that relies on these vital water sources, to climb out. See a ramp being installed.
Q5. Why is it so important that we protect the chaco eagle?
The Chaco eagle’s global population is estimated at fewer than 1,000 adult individuals with declining trends. They are the largest avian predator in every habitat they occur in so are key in maintaining functioning ecosystems.
Q6. What is the project achievement you’re most proud of so far?
The change in local people’s perception and attitude toward the species. At the beginning of the project eagles were persecuted because of a misconception that they cause harm to sheep and goats.
Q7. What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?
It is to get the laws and regulatory changes needed to avoid Chaco eagle (and other wildlife species) dying from human infrastructures such as power lines and water tanks.
Q8. How has your relationship with wfn impacted you and your project?
Winning a Whitley Award last year was the most incredible achievement in my conservation career. It has been the definitive driving force behind getting the conservation of Chaco eagles on the environmental agenda at a regional scale.
Q9. How has/is COVID-19 affecting you and your project?
COVID-19 mostly affected my programmed field activities. However, for me it has also been an opportunity to ponder and learn how much I can do for nature conservation even from a desk, using social media.
Q10. Describe a normal day for you…
Field work takes me away from home for days and even weeks. I love being in the field, even when it is hard and under extreme conditions. When I am not in the field, I spend time in the office conducting data analysis and programming our next field expedition.
Q11. What can the public do to help your mission?
People must continue supporting WFN because its unique funding philosophy allows maintenance of long term and successful conservation initiatives.
Also, we will soon launch a citizen science project to monitor power lines at a continental scale, for which we’ll need people from across the Neotropics to get involved. Follow CECARA on twitter, facebook, instagram and youtube for more information about the Avian Electrocution Neotropical Network as it’s announced!
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