Desperate and decimating. That’s how biologist Agustín Iriarte describes the attitude of livestock farmers and their dwindling number of livestock, as predators take their toll. Chile’s pumas are attacking and killing sheep flocks more than ever.
Between 2008 and 2009, cattle farmers reported 198 deaths attributed to pumas in Canela (Coquimbo Region). Meanwhile, in San Fernando (O’Higgins Region), sheep breeders reported 160 killings by pumas in the last three months of 2010.
In the north though, cattle farmers have taken the matter into their own hands, Iriarte said. “We’ve found several cases of pumas basically mummified, which is a sign of poisoning,” Iriarte told El Mercurio.
Iriarte works on a project monitoring the puma population for Chile’s Agriculture and Livestock Service (SAG). He said this kind of extermination is illegal.
Down south, capturers can earn up to 60,000 Chilean pesos (US$127) per head, despite the animal being protected by hunting laws. If offenders are caught, they receive heavy fines unless they have a hunting license, which is rarely permitted.
In 2009, SAG launched the puma conservation plan, which includes a study of the animal’s population growth and aims to provide information on reducing the impact of the attacks.
Alejandro Donoso, head of SAG’s natural resource protection division, said part of their research seeks to find a balance between protecting the animal and protecting the interests of cattle farmers.
“The fences that the farmers use are inadequate,” Donoso told El Mercurio.
The division has also started a nationwide training program for villagers and small farmers about how to differentiate between puma attacks and attacks by other animals.
“Many times they blame the killing of livestock on the pumas, but on many occasions, it’s been stray dogs,” Donoso said.
Farmers still remain confident that the puma is to blame.
“For starters, look at this tremendous footprint and the injuries to the animals,” Rodrigo Prado, a veterinary and livestock specialist in the Petorca area, told El Mercurio.
“A fox or a dog could not have done this.”
Prado said that before the pumas mainly ate fowl, but recently they started eating calves.
“Throughout the year, they come to pens and eat the goats and sheep,” Prado said.
The puma is considered a near-threatened species, but not in danger, Donoso said, but that could change, which is why they’re studying the animal.
“In protected areas (like national parks such as Torres del Paine), there is greater protection, but in agricultural areas there is insufficient information on population density and distribution, making it difficult to design mitigation plans” that could help protect livestock, Donoso said.
By Nathan Frandino – Santiago Times