I was recently invited to start a conservation revolution. Literally.
That is exactly what Ignacio Jimenez Perez, the Conservation Coordinator for Tompkins Conservation, said to me when he invited me to South America.
The story really starts to get interesting when you see what this organisation is doing for conservation. Having established Conservation Land Trusts (CLT) in both Chile and Argentina, their strapline “Protecting over 2 million acres in Chile and Argentina in perpetuity” certainly grabs the attention of any conservation lover. I was truly honoured to form part of the revolution. I often talk about how privileged I am and I truly mean it. This must be the largest private conservation land holding in the world; most certainly the biggest one that I have ever heard of.
The purpose of the trip is best described by Ignacio himself: “Thanks again for helping us to start a conservation revolution in South America. The political climate is extremely positive in this regard nowadays, and we need to keep pushing forward!”
So what did Ignacio want help with? Well it seems that there is little to no expertise or experience in translocating large predators in Argentina, yet they want to reintroduce the jaguar to the immense Iberá Wetlands in the Argentinian state of Corrientes. All the relevant conservation and research stakeholders would be attending a workshop to finalise the release process and post-release management of the jaguars and I was to form part of that prestigious workshop.
I have never translocated a jaguar, but I have translocated many of Africa’s three big cat species: the cheetah, lion and leopard. The fact that most of their concerns were related to how the local farmers and communities would manage the potential conflict between the jaguars and the livestock meant that my African experience was exactly what they were looking for to guide them through the process. It is an honour to be able to share &Beyond’s long-standing conservation traditions and our proven translocation model with wildlife partners on other continents. Globally, we all need to work hand in hand for conservation in order to protect our precious planet for future generations.
Before we travelled into the wetlands for the jaguar workshop, I gave two presentations in Corrientes. The first evening we were hosted at the University of Corrientes by Dr Rios (the Dean of the Veterinary Faculty) and Senator Flinta (the local representative in Parliament). The presentation, which was about the importance of vets in the translocation of wildlife, was well attended and the 200-seat lecture hall was full to the brim.
The CLT were pushing that they needed to develop the veterinary capacity to manage translocations on a large scale to be able recreate the biodiversity for future national parks, and this topic was right up my alley. I really enjoyed the question and answer session after the presentation, as I was able to give examples of solutions to each question from my experience in Africa.
The next morning saw us setting up for a workshop in a hotel overlooking the mighty Parana River. The topic was the role of ecotourism in conservation, as well as the role of wildlife in making destinations more attractive or unique. We were hosted by Senator Flinta and Inez Presman, the Minister of Tourism for Corrientes State. Minister Presman handed me my passport to Corrientes in her very warm welcome. The workshop went well if I take the level of questions as an indicator of success, but as everything was translated into Spanish I couldn’t immediately gauge the audience response. My hosts Ignacio and Sofia were very happy and kept thanking me for being flexible as we took the workshop where the questions went and only used the script as a guide.
Then it was time for the jaguar workshop at Estancio San Alonso, a private camp situated on an island in the middle of the Iberá Wetland. This is the second largest wetland in South America after the Pantanal in Brazil and, like all wetlands, it is filled with abundant biodiversity.
About 30 people attended, including the Head of Conservation for Argentina’s National Parks. The primary focus was to plan the jaguar release process and set the release triggers. No wild translocations are currently planned and this project intends to release the progeny born to the two captive jaguars only. I spent some time discussing the need for post-release management and conflict mitigation, which have worked for us here in Africa. I also raised the issue of habituating the jaguars to the vehicles that the vets will use if they have to immobilise the jaguars to bring them back. This was a completely new direction for them, as they were led to believe that you want no interaction at all with the animals that are due to be released. Still some work to do here, but we made good progress.
The CLT team have undertaken many translocations and reintroduced quite a few species to the Iberá wetland: the endangered pampas deer, collared peccaries and the iconic giant anteater. I was delighted to be able to witness two of the reintroduced species on the CLT land during my time there: the giant anteater and the collared peccary.
The giant anteater project was initiated in 2007 at Rincon del Socorro Reserve and its success led to the establishment of a second population on San Alonso. Between them, the populations now number more than 80 individuals and they are breeding well in the Iberá Wetland.
The collared peccary reintroduction project is still very new, with 11 individuals that are established in two groups. I had the pleasure of spending a morning with a male collared peccary as he went about his business in the forest at Socorro. Radio telemetry allowed the researcher to relocate him after we had sat watching him forage under a fruiting tree and he would bustle off to look for the next fruiting tree.
I was delighted to fly across the wetland as you really get an idea of scale from the air and the similarities to both the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Pantanal in Brazil are striking. The birding is fantastic, and we managed to get some great close-ups of all the wildlife and birdlife on a boat trip from the developed tourism town of Carlos Pelligrini.
The Iberá wetland is certainly well worth a visit as it is a haven for seeing the iconic South American wildlife and the Tompkins ‘Conservation Revolution’ is certainly bearing fruit. I can highly recommend our exciting 7-day Wild Iberá and Iguazu Falls tour, which enables you to experience Iberá’s incredible conservation story as it unfolds.