In an area known for its imposing peaks, subantarctic forests, turquoise lakes, and extensive grasslands, Chilean Patagonia is the southernmost place on Earth where pumas still roam free. It is here, in one of our planet’s most inhospitable regions, where Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación and Panthera are working to keep the peace between people and the region’s expanding puma population.
Despite being legally protected in the territory, rough estimates suggest each year about one puma per 1000 hectares are illegally killed as these elusive Patagonian icons prey on the sheep of nearby estancias (ranches). Figuring out how these ranchers and pumas can coexist will play a critical role in determining the future of these animals.
Even before Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación was born in 2022, members of the Cerro Guido Ranch – the region’s largest sheep and cattle farm with origins in the late 19th century – understood the importance of fostering a way of life that promotes human-wildlife coexistence. To them, they saw it as a critical piece in protecting the region’s cultural and natural heritage while at the same time protecting a critical driver of the local economy.
As such, the “Puma Project” was started in 2019. Over the past three years, the project has been focused on understanding the pumas on a portion of the nearly 100,000 hectare (almost 400 square mile) ranch. Camera traps were placed, teams of trackers were sent out to constantly monitor the grounds, and new non-lethal approaches such as light deterrents and highly specialized guard dogs protect the livestock. The Puma Project also partnered with Panthera, the largest nonprofit organization devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s wild cats, to incorporate the latest scientific research and study the effectiveness of the project.
“EarthRanger is like magic for us, to be able to have all the data in one place from the moment we collect the information on the ground and then be able to analyze this data is incredible. We are very happy and grateful to be part of this platform and to be able to develop it according to our need.” - Pia Vergara, Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación Executive Director
To accelerate what they know and gather the critical data needed to inform conservation actions on the Estancia Cerro Guido and throughout the region, the Puma Project, in collaboration with Panthera, put GPS collars on pumas, and will do the same on guarddogs, and sheep. The team then connected these devices into EarthRanger as a bridge into the life of the pumas and a way to see how they interact between sheep and guard dogs.
This is part of the first experiment in the region where they plan to unfold the relationship between pumas, sheep, and guard dogs, evaluating how efficient the dogs are in protecting the livestock and its potential impact on local pumas. This information will provide critical information on how to manage sheep in a way they can peacefully coexist with pumas on the ranch. Since EarthRanger offers the ability to go “back in time” to view the past location of tracked animals, the team can also “replay” how a situation unfolded, an additional tool in evaluating the response and promoting human-wildlife coexistence.
Meanwhile, EarthRanger’s heat maps are helping conservationists begin to answer crucial questions about puma home ranges, movements and what may be driving their behaviors around the region. And proximity alerts, coupled with automated cluster-detection algorithms are giving researchers a fuller picture of a puma’s life and social behavior. These tools are highlighting kill sites, when pumas are mating,when they’re interacting between each other and even uncovering dens and new cubs being born so researchers can navigate through the whole life of a puma.
While still in its relative infancy, the Puma Project is already seeing promising results. With most of the knowledge about puma coming from Northern Hemisphere research, conservationists with Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación and Panthera are collecting the important information needed to generate a better understanding of the local puma biology and ecology, ultimately improving the way we conserve these icons of Patagonia.