- House Calls at the End of the World Video
- Wildlife veterinarian Marcela Uhart describes some of her patients on the coast of Argentina.
- The Guanacos of Patagonia Video
- Conservationist, Andres Novaro studies the impacts of natural resource extraction and poaching on the Guanacos of Patagonia.
- Tierra del Fuego Video
- Established in 2004 through a gift from the global investment bank Goldman Sachs, the Karukinka reserve in Tierra Del Fuego represents a major investment in the conservation of patagonia’s ecology and species.
- Argentina Landscape Photo
- WCS is working to conserve a migration corridor for guanacos between the Payunia and Auca Mahuida reserves.
- Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
- Guanaco Photo
- Patagonia is the last stronghold for wild guanacos.
- Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
- Migration Tracking Photo
- Andres Novaro and Susan Walker tracking the migratory movements of radio-collared guanacos in the Payunia reserve on the Argentine steppe.
- Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Most of the archetypical ecosystems of southern South America are represented in Argentina, from subtropical flatlands to prairies, arid plains, high mountains, and glaciers, each of which has been altered to varying degrees by human development. Patagonia, a series of windswept, volcanic plateaus characterized by open steppes and scrub forests, is home to a bizarre set of animals that includes armadillos, marsupials, burrowing parrots, and a large monogamous rodent called the “mara.” It also represents the last stronghold of the guanaco and Darwin’s rhea. Though haunting in its lonely grandeur, Patagonia’s ecology has been severely modified as a result of overgrazing by introduced sheep. Tierra del Fuego, at the continent’s southern tip, appears much as it did when Magellan sailed through. Its sprawling wilderness is unlike any other in the world, with large stands of old-growth southern beech forests, peat bogs, alpine meadows, river systems, fjords, and spectacular snow-capped mountains. Yet there, too, overfishing, oil production, and the introduction of non-native beaver have exacted an environmental toll.
Argentina encompasses some of the world’s wildest, most sparsely populated landscapes and one of the most dramatic, storm-tossed coastlines, at Tierra del Fuego. The country also claims one of the largest, most congested cities of South America, Buenos Aires (pop. 12.8 million). Argentina is an expansive, sometimes turbulent place, known for its gauchos and legendary shipwrecks as well as its pumas and penguins. Its diverse ecosystems include habitat for sea lions, ocelots, howler monkeys, crocodiles, guanacos, anteaters, vicuña, boa constrictors, and the extremely venomous yarará pit viper.
- Some of the planet’s most unpredictable weather occurs in Tierra del Fuego, where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet at the base of the Andes Mountains.
- More than 80 percent of the wild guanaco population worldwide lives in Argentina.
- Argentina is home to the largest flying bird in the New World—the Andean condor, as well as the smallest deer in the world, the pudu.
- Other notable birds include the Magellanic woodpecker, the austral parakeet, and the green-backed firecrown, a type of hummingbird.
- The indigenous people of southern Argentina, only a few of whom remain, living on the fjords of Southern Chile, were known for their extravagant, ritual body painting, which often mimicked native animals.
- The fertile Pampas grasslands, located north of Patagonia, are characterized by vast, remote ranches known as estancias, where cattle and sheep are raised.
- The Andes is the world’s most extensive high mountain system, stretching for 4,000 miles.
- Argentina’s Cerro Aconcagua, at 22,841 feet, is the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.
- Argentina also claims the lowest point in South America, at Laguna del Carbón in Santa Cruz, 344 feet below sea level.
More than 95 percent of the land in Patagonia is privately owned, and only about one percent of Patagonia’s steppe and scrub ecosystems is currently under strict protection. Livestock grazing has resulted in severe desertification of approximately 30 percent of the landscape there, and sheep, cattle, and rabbits compete with native herbivores, and may transmit diseases to guanacos. There is a pressing need for assessing the effects of sheep grazing, exotic species, and hunting on Patagonian wildlife and habitats.
Due to their demographic characteristics and colonial habits, seabirds are highly vulnerable to human activities such as oil extraction and transport, fishing, and other disturbances. Little is known about the way natural and human-related factors affect breeding seabird populations, and despite the importance of seabird populations for marine systems and human economies, there is no national action plan for seabird conservation.
Introduced beaver have expanded rapidly in the absence of top predators, causing extensive damage to forests and altering natural water flows. Feral minks may be killing large numbers of native ground-nesting birds.
Along the coast, industrial-scale fishing, poorly planned development, and untreated sewage are changing marine and coastal ecosystems. At the same time, the use of wildlife as a tourist attraction is growing, without appropriate regulations.
WCS has actively promoted the creation of parks and reserves in Argentina since the 1960s and has been instrumental in the establishment of many. We currently work to protect wildlife in the marine, steppe, and Andean environments of Patagonia. WCS continues to be instrumental in implementing the Patagonian Coastal Zone Management Plan, a program funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to protect coastal and marine wildlife and their habitats. To address conservation threats facing the regional marine environment, WCS is leading the Sea & Sky initiative, which seeks to protect a vast oceanscape in the Southwest Atlantic, an epicenter of biological productivity. In 2009, with support from WCS, Argentina declared a new coastal marine park to protect half a million penguins, cormorants, sea lions, and other coastal and marine wildlife.
On the Patagonian steppe, WCS is working with Argentine partners to preserve one of the continent’s most endangered natural phenomena, the overland migration of guanacos. WCS researchers are particularly interested in how guanacos adapt to seasonal changes in the landscape and how livestock grazing and other human impacts affect them. Their work will illuminate key factors that affect guanaco distribution, abundance, and social composition, as well as those that show migratory patterns. WCS is also working to improve protected areas for guanacos and to promote a migration corridor between the Payunia and Auca Mahuida reserves. Our conservationists collaborate with Patagonian ranchers so that wildlife can share private lands, and work with oil companies and local people to close abandoned oil trails that provide access to poachers.
From the Newsroom
Argentina has created its first open-ocean protected area, Burdwood Bank. This sanctuary in the Patagonian Sea will protect whales, penguins, and rare cold corals. WCS commends Argentina’s government on the achievement, and thanks local partners of the Forum of NGOs.
A pair of courting cormorants soak up the sun in a newly minted marine protected area in Argentina. These seabirds share the Isla Pingüino Coastal Marine Park with sea lions, penguins, and dolphins.
Patagonian cashmere has gone “green” with a new certification by the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network. The business venture supports the local economy while respecting this magnificent yet fragile landscape.
Fitted with a tiny camera on its back, an imperial cormorant dove to the ocean floor to pursue a meal. Although conservationists know these seabirds seek underwater snacks, they never anticipated the depths of their fishing feats, as captured in this video. The WCS team that worked with the National Research Council of Argentina to track the “super-bird” has studied cormorant feeding behavior in the Patagonian Sea for the past decade.
WCS helps a group of Argentine cashmere producers adopt sustainable husbandry practices that improve their livelihoods while also protecting the guanacos, rheas, and Andean cats that share their turf.