A Turning Point for Chilean Puma Conservation

By Nicolás Lagos, Omar Ohrens, and Pia Vergara

Puma Patagonia

Learn about our work with the Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación, who Panthera collaborates with to protect pumas in Chilean Patagonia.

The year 2018 marked a turning point at Estancia Cerro Guido. For more than 120 years, under the snowy backdrop of Patagonian Chile’s mountains where pumas roam freely, the estancia (ranch) was dedicated almost exclusively to sheep ranching, only later integrating ranch tourism into its activities. At that time, the conservation and protection of the ecosystems on Cerro Guido seemed like a dream, something very distant from what is now a reality.

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Video Credit: Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación

However, after extensive conversations, a puma conservation project, intended to be sustained through tourism, began to take shape. Shortly after, the project was born and molded into the Estancia Cerro Guido Conservation Area. Keeping in mind that conservation does not only mean protecting a place, ecosystem or species — but also people — the project saw the need to transform into something that involved Cerro Guido as a whole — including gauchos (cowboys), guides, inhabitants and workers. In January 2022, the Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación was born.

The team
Our puma team.

Shortly before the Foundation took shape, the project was contemplating the challenge of finding and implementing non-lethal methods to protect domestic livestock from predation by pumas and other carnivores, as a foundation upon which to build coexistence between ranching and conservation of the local wildlife. Thus, a partnership was formed with experts at Panthera.

It’s time to protect cats. The initial objective of this collaboration is to be able to contribute to the resolution of conflicts that have persisted for more than a century in the Magallanes Region, with a replicable model for other ranches in Patagonia. Our approach involves the use of non-lethal alternatives for the protection of domestic livestock, such as light deterrents and livestock protection dogs. We have designed research to evaluate the interaction between pumas, domestic livestock and guard dogs as a way to measure the effectiveness of the latter in protecting sheep, while also evaluating the impact of guard dogs on pumas. This study is being carried out at Estancia Cerro Guido in an area distant from where puma tourism activities take place, as a way to avoid interfering with these activities.

Puma collaring

How will we do it? The main methodology of the study includes the installation of satellite tracking collars on pumas, guard dogs and sheep, as a way of knowing the real-time movements of each one of them and their spatial interactions.

The planned experiment will last for three years and is in its initial stage. We are already in the implementation stage, repairing and building fences, evaluating the productivity of the experimental fields through a collaboration between the Extreme Environments Group of the Universidad del Desarrollo (UDD) and the Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA). This June, we deployed seven satellite tracking collars on pumas that live where the experiment will be carried out. They have already started to collect critical information about the species’ movements; the collars will drop off after two years, via a timed release system.

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Due to the paucity of protected lands in southernmost South America, pumas and people must learn to coexist so that pumas can move across areas large enough to avoid inbreeding and maintain their genetic health. Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación and Panthera are taking an ambitious step. The icons of Patagonia, sheep ranching for wool and meat production and pumas, can thrive together.

Learn more about pumas.