Andean cats and Puna biodiversity, Argentina
The Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) is one of most endangered felids in the world and occurs almost exclusively in the Puna ecoregion, a regional conservation priority. The data we have collected since 1998 show that Andean cats have a fragmented distribution associated with prey availability, low population numbers, and are threatened by habitat loss, hunting, and, possibly, competition with other carnivores. We aim to use the Andean cat as a flagship for the conservation of the Puna biodiversity, focusing on the Greater Vilama Landscape, a remote, scarcely inhabited wilderness area where we will foster the creation of a protected area. To improve our understanding of the ecological needs of Puna carnivores we will develop innovative research and monitoring protocols, mainly based on occupancy modelling of sign counting and camera trapping data. To improve local people’s negative attitudes towards carnivores, we will deliver conservation education, through local Education Officers, build their capacity and that of local Wildlife Monitors to participate in the implementation of the protected area and form a network of local people and other institutions aiming at developing conservation-friendly activities. We expect to greatly enhance the profile of the Andean cat among local communities and spread pass on the knowledge that wildlife conservation is compatible with social development.