New Gadgets for Guanacos

June 19, 2008

Eight guanacos in Chile’s Karukinka Reserve are wearing radio-collars as part of a study to preserve a critical population of these animals, known for their spectacular migration.

Eight guanacos from seven different families on Chile’s island of Tierra del Fuego will stand out a bit more from the herd, so to speak. They are part of a new Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) study to track their movements through radio collars. These collared camelids will help the WCS researchers better understand their movements, and ultimately, help protect the species and restore its overland migration.

Wild cousins of the llama, guanacos once roamed in vast herds from the Andean Plateau to the steppes of Patagonia. From a population that formerly numbered in the tens of millions, only about half a million guanacos survive today. The remnant herds are highly fragmented due to habitat loss and competition from livestock, which remain the biggest threats. The largest wild population lives in Tierra del Fuego, with many in Karukinka Reserve. Their migration has become one of the most endangered natural phenomena in Latin America.

WCS researchers are particularly interested in how guanacos adapt to seasonal changes in the landscape and how livestock grazing and other human impacts outside the reserve affect them. Their study will illuminate key factors that affect guanaco distribution, abundance, and social composition, as well as those that show migratory patterns.

Donated to WCS by Goldman Sachs in 2004, Karukinka consists of 740,000 acres of wilderness, including the world’s southernmost old-growth forest as well as peat bogs, unique river systems, and grasslands. Goldman Sachs has provided key funding for this guanaco study.

“This study is pivotal in understanding the ecological importance of guanacos and ultimately conserving them as a species,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, president and CEO of WCS. “Historically, guanacos played a similar ecological role in Latin America as did bison in North America, with vast herds wandering over large landscapes. We commend Goldman Sachs for their support to help protect an iconic species that is so important to Tierra del Fuego’s natural heritage.”

In addition to the guanaco study, WCS has already begun other conservation activities in Karukinka Reserve, including wetlands restoration and low-impact ecotourism.

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