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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 19:09 GMT 20:09 UK
Patagonia's wildlife-friendly sheep farmers
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Farmers in Patagonia in southern Argentina are learning to combine raising sheep with conserving wildlife.

Guanoco   Michael Bruford
Hope dawns for the guanoco (Image: Michael Bruford)
Sheep farming in the region has traditionally been very hard on local species, as farmers have given priority to the sheep.

But a different approach, funded by the United Nations Global Environment Facility (Gef) is beginning to work.

Among the species benefiting are the puma and a type of armadillo.

The Gef's work in Patagonia features in Peace, Naturally, a film made by Television Trust for the Environment and shown in its Earth Report series on BBC World.

Changed mentality

It centres on La Esperanza (Hope), a sheep farm of almost 7,000 hectares, which doubles as a wildlife reserve.

 Click here to watch BBC World and its report on Patagonia.

Jose Maria Musmeci, a naturalist, says: "It's part of a strategy to set up reserves on privately-owned land which offers a good representative stock of biodiversity, a sort of bio-region.

Remote Patagonian shore   TVE
The area is remote
"It's also part of a philosophy of trying to introduce friendly sheep-farming methods rather than the traditional ones which have had such a heavy environmental impact in Patagonia, and to find ways of making sheep-farming sustainable."

The conflict has centred on the competition between the sheep and the guanaco, a relative of the llama.

The guanaco have been persecuted in the belief that they were eating the best grazing or drinking the water supply and leaving little for the sheep.

Other worries

Gustavo Zamora, a game warden, tells Earth Report: "For the moment we're working with the guanaco. We put radio transmitters on four animals a couple of months ago and now we're tracking them.

Fishing boat   TVE
Fishing methods are changing
"As far as sheep are concerned, there are far more serious problems than pumas or guanaco - for example, outbreaks of scabies or sheep-stealing. These cause the loss of many more sheep."

Pumas take both sheep and guanacos, but they themselves are protected at La Esperanza.

Other species now receiving protection include the mara, or Patagonian hare (which is not a hare, but related to deer), a bird called the tinamou, and the hairy armadillo.

Funding from the Gef has also helped to reduce the loss of coastal wildlife, through support for a local conservation foundation.

Industry reformed

Graham Harris, president of the Fundacion Patagonia Natural, says: "When we started out, every year there were about 40,000 deaths of penguins due to oil pollution at sea, and that was just chronic pollution, just ships discharging oil into the sea.

Seal on beach   TVE
Sea life gets a better deal
"We recently did a survey - I guess it must have been in 2001 - and there were very, very few oiled penguins on the coast. And this is as a result of the oil companies just cleaning up their act."

Conservationists were derided 20 years ago for protecting the area's elephant seals, but now nobody thinks of harming the animals.

The foundation is also working to reduce wastage by the coastal fishing fleet which sails from the Patagonian port of Rawson.

Waste reduction

A 1994 survey showed that in some areas up to half the catch by weight was thrown away, as it consisted of the wrong species.

But on-board observers now alert fishing officials ashore as soon as by-catch levels become unacceptable, so that entire sectors can be shut down to allow the fish to recover.

The Patagonians call this system of temporary closures "mobile fishing preserves".




SEE ALSO:
World 'losing battle against extinctions'
21 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Patagonia, land of song
26 Oct 01  |  Wales


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