Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Dedicated dogs help cryptic cats

Claudio Sillero helps train dogs to monitor elusive Andean cats in the High Andes

Perched high up in the central plateaux of South America’s Andes lives the elusive Andean cat.  Sightings of these creatures are so rare that many dedicated members of the Andean Cat Alliance1 have yet to see one!  It was their contagious enthusiasm that inspired me to establish a conservation project around the triple frontier of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile with funds from a Darwin Initiative Grant (UK).  Using Andeans cat as a flagship species we improve conservation within existing protected areas and encourage more tolerance from the Aymara and Quechua communities for wild animals.

The most immediate challenge was how to study such a mysterious pussy cat.  Our colleagues survey barren landscapes in search of cat droppings, which they collect and send to genetics labs for confirmation of provenance.  This is slowly populating a tentative map of Andean cat distribution, but is like searching for gold dust… expensive and it can take months before lab results come back. 

Megan Parker of www.workingdogsforconservation.org came to the rescue.  With her assistance we spent three weeks in Argentina training Bruno and Negro to help us find Andean cat depositions.  The dogs came from shelters in Salta city and were selected for their obsessive play behaviour.  Cashing on the amazing canine sense of smell, the training is turning work into play.  Who would have thought that a couple of stray dogs would willingly be helping protect one to the world’s rarest cats?

Find out more

Visit www.peopleandwildlife.org.uk for more information on People & Wildlife, Born Free and Oxford University’s joint initiative to resolve conflict between wildlife and local people.

¹The Andean Cat Alliance www.gatoandino.org brings together scientists, conservationists and educators of the four range countries to protect this threatened animal and its habitat.
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