Studying the Ecology of Pumas in an Area of Intense Conflict with Livestock

Initiated in 2011 by the GECM (a team of Argentine researchers, conservationists, and educators devoted to explore solutions to the conservation issues of South American mammals) and Felidae Conservation Fund, this research and conservation project aims to address the recently intensified threats to the survival of a population of pumas that is both on the edge of extinction and at the edge of the species' distribution range in the southernmost part of South America.

The study is currently underway in Eastern Argentina, in the Southern Buenos Aires province. Pumas are thought to be extinct or very rare in most of Eastern Argentina, particularly in the southwestern Buenos Aires Province. However, there is not yet any reliable information about the puma’s true distribution. Southern Buenos Aires province is a transitional area (an Espinal) between the grasslands and Monte habitats, where ranching is a predominant economic activity. As a result, many natural prey populations (For example, Pampas deer and Guanaco) have been largely exterminated, leading to overgrazing and increased human-puma conflicts. Due to the low availability of natural prey and the increased availability of sheep and cattle (an easier prey for pumas), conflicts have heightened between pumas and the local people. In addition, during the last 10 years, extreme droughts over barren sandy soils have produced dramatic process of desertification. As a result, the pressure for the government to permit puma hunting is very strong and could significantly harm the puma population. 

This project is addressing this human-puma conflict by conducting research on the puma population to understand local habitat use, home range size, and movement and activity patterns, as well as their true impacts on livestock predation. The project will also incorporate education and outreach to the local communities, implementing a combination of both immediate actions and planning for longer term processes to mitigate the conflict.

A Note from Mauro, the Argentina Puma Project Leader:

“The Argentine Espinal is not the type of landscape able to catch people’s imagination. It is a flat, arid -almost like a desert- and uniform scrubland, with sandy soils and smooth green to gray colors. In fact, when the summer sun makes the ground so hot it hurts and the tallest vegetation is less than two meters tall, it is rather the place where you would send your enemies to. And yet…. I like being there! Perhaps it is because of the fact that is so close and yet so different to the totally modified pampas, where croplands dominate the landscape. Or perhaps because I know that there are still many pumas out there!

Most of the members of my team (and I am not an exception) always wanted to work with pumas, but it is only now, in this apparently deprived habitat, that we are taking a relatively large number of beautiful puma photographs. And this is so in spite of the fact that the pumas that we found dead, hanging from fences, sadly outnumbers those we photographed.

These cats are thin, pure skin and muscles. They are true survivors, probably in constant displacement in an environment where each human being is almost certainly a potential killer and water and cover are scarce, but food is still available. And they reinforce our commitment: we want to help these survivors to survive!” 

Mauro Lucherini, Project Leader and PH.D. Zoologist