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  • Writer's pictureSophie Baumgartner

News from Argentina

Small foreword: Thank you Ancolie for the news from Argentina and especially for providing our camera traps for the project. It is very exciting to read about the important work of Mauro and his team in Patagonia.

Hello everyone!

I am Ancolie, a master's student in Wildlife Management, Conservation and Control at the University of Sassari (Italy). As part of the finalization of my degree, I had the opportunity to join Mauro Lucherini (INBIOSUR, CONICET, UNSur) and Diego Procopio (UNPA-UACO-CIPD) on their collaborative project in Argentina (#PatagoniaCatsProject). I was not alone on my trip here because I was accompanied by 7 camera traps kindly donated by Project Felis that will be of great help for the project growth.

I arrived in Puerto Deseado, in the Province of Santa Cruz, where the Research Centre of the National University of Southern Patagonia is , two months ago. Along with Diego and Mauro, we started to work on the effect of free-ranging dogs on wildlife and specifically, on the 2 different species of foxes present in Patagonia, the Culpeo fox and the Chilla fox.

Dogs are the most common carnivore in the world (their total population is estimated in more or less a billion) and approximately 75% of their population is represented by free-roaming dogs. It has been shown that those dogs represent a big threat to wildlife, for example in terms of attacks, transmission of disease and hybridization. In the study area, several attacks were recorded on Darwin's rheas and penguins. However, the extent of their effects on native carnivores is still unknown.

The project followed two steps. We started with a dog census in 3 different towns and we counted more than 1,300 dogs only in Puerto Deseado (the largest town in the area), 13 in Tellier and 52 in Jaramillo.

Then we deployed bait stations along rural roads and at increasing distances from the town centre. Each station consists of a 1-m-diameter circular surface of smoothed soil with a bait buried in its centre. The baits are alimentary rewards made out of dog kibbles. We set up 133 stations in Puerto Deseado and Tellier and 64 in Jaramillo.

Every day for 5 consecutive days, we checked each station to record the animal tracks and to resupply baits. We were driving 200km around Puerto Deseado-Tellier and 100km in Jaramillo for our daily revisions. During those checks, we found tracks of dogs, foxes, skunks and a few wild cats. These data will help us to understand the interactions between these species and if dogs are affecting the occurrence of native wild carnivores. To increase coverage and maximize the likelihood of encountering wild carnivores and thus support the data collected by bait stations, we strategically installed camera traps in areas that we could not reach by vehicle. The next step we are hoping to take soon, is to radio collar multiple dogs to directly investigate their spatial behaviour and specifically how far and how frequently they roam away from urban areas. However, the hard Patagonian winter has already arrived and snow, strong winds and below cero temperatures are making fieldwork challenging.

It has been some very busy and hard-working but most importantly, very interesting couple months. I have already learnt so much and I can’t wait to look at the results produced by our fieldwork!

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