Birds of prey hold significance for many civilisations, including indigenous societies across the Americas. However, for the modern day gauchos of La Pampa and Mendoza provinces, the Chaco Eagle was considered a threat to their livelihoods, perceived to predate young livestock. José’s research over the last 15 years has proven this not to be the case. His extensive outreach work has begun to change the behaviour of farmers, slowing intentional persecution of these endangered raptors.
Besides illegal killing, José’s work has exposed other significant threats to the Chaco Eagle, including electrocution on power lines and drowning in water tanks. The semi-arid climate of the region means that ranchers store water in multiple, sheer-sided tanks all across this vast landscape. Local wildlife has learnt to make use of this resource, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Predictions based on José’s research estimate that in La Pampa province 300,000 birds drown annually by falling into the tanks.
In a pilot study, José showed that mortality due to drowning was reduced by 50% by the addition of a ramp inside the water tank. He has also built relationships with power companies willing to make their pylons safe for wildlife by making simple structural changes. With his Whitley Award, José and his research centre – the Centre for the Study and Conservation of Birds of Prey in Argentina – will scale up to the broader landscape, covering 20,000 km² across the two provinces for the benefit of the Chaco Eagle and many other species affected by these threats.
José’s project will:
- Further reduce the illegal killing of the Chaco Eagle by changing community perceptions of the eagles.
- Work with farmers to implement simple solutions to prevent eagles and other wildlife from drowning in water tanks.
- Engage power companies to take steps to reduce eagle mortality from electrocution.
Why it matters:
- Less than 1,000 mature Chaco Eagles remain.
- 70% of Chaco Eagles tagged since 2012 have died due to electrocution, illegal killing or drowning.
- 60 species of birds and mammal have been found drowned in water tanks in the project site.
“We need to be creative to find the smartest and most practical solutions to stop species extinctions.”
2021 Continuation Funding
£70,000 over two years
Ensuring Chaco Eagle Conservation Takes Flight in Argentina
South America’s semi-arid biomes are among the most endangered ecosystems in the world. These fragile environments harbour extraordinary species that have adapted to extreme conditions. The largest avian predator, and therefore key to maintaining balance, is the Critically Endangered Chaco eagle. Known locally as the ‘weeping eagle’ because of its forlorn call, fewer than 1,000 mature adults are left. The species’ main threats are all anthropogenic, as agriculture expands into the heart of their habitat: an already challenging environment compounded by human obstacles.
With his 2019 Whitley Award, José Sarasola and NGO, CECARA, pioneered simple solutions that are having a big impact. Now they will expand efforts from the Mendoza to the Sante Fe province. Building on the relationships he has established with landowners, private sector and local authorities, José will retrofit more powerlines to stop avian electrocution. Plus, he will install a further 250 rescue ramps in sheer-sided water storage tanks to prevent wildlife from drowning. He will also work with local people to locate and monitor Chaco eagle pairs during the breeding season, then satellite-tag juvenile birds to gather information about their range that can inform future conservation action.