On pumas, guanaco, ranchers, and politicians

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Two stories that appeared recently in the news and on social media have left me astonished, as I imagine happened with many people who live in Argentine Patagonia. This is a sort of “amen” regarding the eternal discussion about intellectual faculties by those who govern our destinies, and their incapacity to see beyond special interests of those who apply pressure to present laws or decrees that are absolutely retrogressive and scandalously unhinged.
On one side, we find ourselves with a series of terrifying and impacting photos of various hunters (some very young, others not) armed with the latest generation of powerful rifles, with a telescopic view, posing proudly with a smile next to their prey, covered in blood: the puma, the only great feline in Patagonia and which is considered by CITES as an endangered species.
Unfortunately, this marvelous animal, that finds itself at the peak of the biological chain, has been persecuted, hunted and decimated by men that recolonized Patagonia through the genocide perpetrated by General Roca’s militia and repeated throughout the 20th century, due to the specific request of sheep ranches. The puma was declared a “plague” in the Patagonian provinces and a price of 500 pesos (US $100) was established to be paid per head in the Rio Negro province.
This aberration accompanies the actions taken by the government of the Chubut province that, through the Wild Fauna and Flora Directive, passed the law Nº 9/2012 regarding authorization to selectively hunt puma. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz is offering even greater rewards for every dead puma. To go deeper into the gruesome details, the director of Rio Negro’s livestock agency explained on television that there are two forms of hunting them. The first, setting up metal traps provided by the government that effectively traps one of the animal’s paws, torturing it until it bleeds to death. The second is to follow its footprints with dogs, find it and kill it with a rifle. “The total payment increases, and on the other hand, it is a plus for the ranchers, who are the most interested in ending this plague,” concluded this famous functionary.
The situation is derived from an abnormal practice, which is evidenced in the series of photos that is circulating via social media, that exemplifies the dementia of a culture that lost all contact with its surroundings and prioritized the interests of a group of wool producers over the extinction of a symbolic species, whose perpetual conservation should be guaranteed by the government and that, among other benefits for the environment, helps to maintain the natural equilibrium of an entire ecosystem, similar to the condor and other native species of each bioregion.
The second piece of news: national legislators from the Santa Cruz province, through the law Nº 096/2012, solicited that the Board of Provincial Agriculture classify the guanaco (Lama Guanicoe) as a “harmful species” to allow for unregulated hunting.
Upon settling the declaration, its possible, despite not having a management plan nor population estimate of the species, to not only freely hunt guanacos in the province, but also authorities incredibly are encouraging producers to completely eradicate the species from the Patagonian landscape. 
Obviously, both of these developments have a direct relationship and a single goal: to intensify sheep ranching that, paradoxically, is directly responsible over the last century for the desertification of this ample extension of Argentine territory at an unprecedented rate, transforming a healthy ecosystem in perfect equilibrium into an arid territory, and making it impossible to be restored by natural means, with a variety of grasses and vegetation practically irrecoverable, even with human intervention. 
It is worth noting that two inconceivable ecocides in the context of the current global environmental emergency are about to occur simply to guarantee an economic activity that has proved unsustainable over time. This is happening because the ranchers have never respected the capacity of the fragile southern soils in Patagonia, devastating the landscape in a brief period of 100 years. There is no self-criticism by different rural societies that unite the ranchers, and no punishment by the government, to guarantee the protection of soils and biodiversity for ecological, social, and even economic reasons.
This is undoubtedly a pathetic environmental situation that is now about to add to that the definitive extinction of two emblematic Patagonian species, both of which have lived in this bioregion for thousands of years in harmony with the natural environment, and without damaging this fragile, complex ecosystem.
An equation that can only be solved by the most uninformed representatives south of the 40º parallel, or the most desensitized, mean-spirited and short-sighted ranchers in our history. 
The author, Lucas Chiappe, is director of the Argentine Patagonia environmental group Proyecto Lemu.

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Some of are guest columnists have so far included
  • Andres Gillmore, director of Corporación Costa Carrera 
  • Amanda Maxwell, Latin America Advocate, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
  • Lucas Chiappe, coordinator of Proyecto Lemu, El Bolson, Argentina
  • Damien Gillis, a documentary filmmaker from Vancouver, Canada
  • Jorge Moller, Chilean representative to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)
To contribute a guest column, write to us at editors@patagonjournal.com