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By Claudio Bertonatti

Traditionally, heritage is divided into natural and cultural. It is an intellectual exercise that seeks to classify welfares, spaces, species… only for the purpose of simplifying their understanding, as taxonomy does with zoology or botany. But this classification conditions our perception, to the point of observing nature, on the one hand, and culture, on the other. At this point we are facing a problem.

The fact is that even when we walk through the most urban landscape, it is easy to verify that wild species are present, as well as the soil, water and air. In the same way, when we walk through a wild ecosystem, cultural aspects are present: sometimes, in an invisible way, such as toponyms, myths, legends, songs, history, popular names of animals, medicinal uses of the plants… Sometimes their presence is obvious if there are paths, roads and other human structures.

However, the dissociation between “the natural” and “the cultural” is usually reinforced by the diffusion provided in the emblematic places on both sides. For example, in protected natural areas, brochures and posters shows the flora or fauna, but rarely the cultural components (historical, anthropological, archaeological and folkloric). Something similar happens when we visit a historical, archaeological or art museum: all very nice, but nature does not appear, as if it were a metaphor for the gaze of a one-eyed man. But if we were able to see with both eyes, the visual field would expand to reveal an integrated panorama.

From that view, heritage appears. That is, the integral legacy (natural and cultural) of the generations that preceded us. They selected objects, places, characters, species and events with which they identified in their time. We not only receive them: we resignify them, ratify them, discard them or renew them. Therefore, heritage is a social construction, based on the valuation, feeling and knowledge of the present. For this reason, different societies identify themselves with a patrimonial inventory that varies over time, although always, with the same purpose: to string them together to weave a story about their identity.

 

The renowned actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio published on his social networks a request addressed to the Argentinian Congress, asking for the treatment of the bill for the creation of the Ansenuza National Park and Reserve.

Leonardo DiCaprio requested through his social networks to the National Congress the treatment of the bill to move forward with the creation of the Ansenuza National Park and Reserve, he also stressed the global importance of this wetland. This request is in addition to the one made formally a few days ago by Natura International Argentina and Aves Argentinas.

In August of this year, a Provincial law was obtained by unanimous vote of the legislature of the province of Córdoba. Now, the urgent request is the approval of the National Law that will allow the creation of the Ansenuza National Park and Reserve. Having this protected area is of vital importance to ensure the conservation of the wetland formed by the Mar Chiquita Lagoon and the marshes of the Dulce River, a key site for the conservation of biodiversity at a global level and one of the most important wetlands in Argentina.

Lucila Castro, director of Natura International Argentina, stated: “The creation of the Ansenuza National Park will allow us to protect and develop, together with its local communities, one of the most important ecosystems in our country”.

The creation of the Park requires the approval of the Chamber of Deputies first, and then of the Chamber of Senators.

DiCaprio’s request states: “The Argentine government is ready to take the final steps necessary to make Ansenuza National Park a reality. This designation is a dream shared by local communities, the government of the province of Córdoba, the National Parks Administration, the Argentine Ministry of Environment, Aves Argentinas, Fundación Wyss, Natura International Argentina, and Re:wild,” emphasizing the importance of working together to achieve great goals.
“This is an excellent opportunity for the Chamber of Deputies to give us great news to close the year,” Castro pointed out, “since there is a general consensus for the creation of these protected areas, it remains to put it on the agenda and vote on it, which will give us a good reason to start 2022 moving forward in a mission that unites us: the conservation of one of Argentina’s most valuable wetlands.”

By Marcela Tittarelli

From Santa Fe Province, Argentina, we want to share experiences and impressions of people who have had the opportunity to observe maned wolf specimens in the wild. To try to convey those moments of emotion, I invite readers to imagine that they are in a huge pasture or an open forest of espinillos, quebrachos, and carob trees; we can also envision a ravine, stream, or lagoon. Let’s imagine that we are walking through one of these environments and suddenly a “fire” appears in front of us, the intense orange color of its coat surprises us and stands out in this landscape.

Because of this coloration, in some places it is called Doradillo.On the other hand, its particular silhouette and ungainly gait have earned it the name in some places of “fox foal”. Its size, its raised fur on the back and its loud vocalizations at night, have led erroneously to relate it with the legend of the Lobizón, generating unfounded fears.

The maned wolf (Aguará guazú) is a tireless walker of the environments described above, and can surprise us with a jump or we can see it diving like a dolphin, while it displays its hunting skills in a sea of tall grasses. Many times it is often observed concentrating deeply or looking “beyond”, without noticing the human presence that records the moment through a camera. It has also been recorded bordering watercourses or flooding areas. Solitary, slow-walking, and shy, this canid does not represent a danger to livestock or humans.

Although the bibliography mentions that it is most active during twilight and nighttime hours, we have received records of specimens observed at midday and even in the early afternoon.

(Matías Romano)

Regarding its ecological role, on the one hand, we know that this species uses connected landscapes of grasslands, wetlands, and forests, demonstrating the impact that altered or fragmented landscapes have on the survival of the fauna associated with these environments. In terms of its diet, it is a great seed disperser and is the most important predator in this region after the puma.

Thanks to the records provided by people, surveys, and surveys conducted in the Province of Santa Fe, we can say that the main threat to this and many species of our fauna is the alteration of the landscape, which leads to many individuals dying from being run over on roads or approaching urban or semi-urban areas and being attacked by dogs or being exposed to diseases of domestic animals, as well as extreme weather events (droughts and floods).

Especially thanks to the diffusion of technology we receive a large number of records of maned wolves killed by collisions on our roads and in contrast, we also receive many records of sightings.

In 2003 this species was declared a Provincial Natural Monument (Law 12182) and then in 2009 the Conservation Plan (Version 1) was published, which includes an Action Protocol for the Rescue of specimens and Collection of information which is disseminated through the Security Forces, Municipalities and Communes, and guides the ways to act in case of an encounter with an individual. In this way, we differentiate the cases that warrant an intervention from the State together with Security Forces to rescue a specimen, from those cases that are identified as sightings or findings of dead specimens. In all cases, the information we obtain is entered into a spreadsheet that allows us to evaluate threats, distribution, etc., and thus be able to propose concrete conservation actions.

When we receive notification that a maned wolf is found inside urban constructions or rural buildings due to an unusual event, we proceed to place it in a shelter and evaluate whether it is feasible to release it in a nearby natural area. If it is wounded or there are indications that it has been in captivity, then it is transferred to the wildlife center to be evaluated by veterinary professionals. After a period of quarantine and rehabilitation, many of these individuals can be released.

(Matías Romano)

We always remind you not to intervene directly, but to contact the security forces if you find an individual in a conflictive or injured situation; on the other hand, if you observe a free animal in a peri-urban or rural area, simply sharing the location, date and photo or film with us is very valuable information.

It is important to highlight that there is great communication and coordination with fauna personnel from other provinces, with institutions involved in the protection of biodiversity, with veterinarians, biologists, researchers, and others to share information on how to act when individuals need veterinary assistance or to be relocated in natural areas or when veterinary consultations are made, thus creating a collaboration between professionals and involving different institutions for the conservation of this species.

In this sense, and no less important, the question arises: What can each one of us do to help protect this species? And this is necessarily extended to all the fauna and the ecosystem where it lives. As an answer, we believe that it is important to understand and internalize that as a species we are part of the life that develops on our planet, that it is essential to respect, protect and coexist with the life forms and the health of our environment. All the actions and activities that we carry out in our cities or communities, depending on how they are executed, can have negative repercussions on the ecosystems and then on our health. So it is essential to maintain or restore healthy ecosystems.

 

By Yanina Druetta

If for a moment we look into the past, we can see and be assured that, from the first instant that humans appeared on the face of the earth, they began to relate closely with nature. Let us imagine that stage of human existence as a scene of chaos where life was hard and dangerous, but there was some minimum tranquility that guaranteed the reproduction of the species. These first humans adapted to the environment, learned from it, and understood how to take advantage of the resources provided without affecting the self-regulation of the ecosystem.

As time went by, the need to obtain new knowledge about the natural world increased, and a latent spark of curiosity made famous characters with great capacities of study and observation give way to their adventurous spirit. They set out for new worlds participating in epic journeys with the desire to visit unexplored places and discover an endless number of creatures and phenomena never seen before. Thus, the field of Natural History was born.

Two pioneers of this field were Charles Darwin and Alexander Von Humboldt. Twenty-three years after his expeditionary journey to the southern coast of America, Darwin published the book On The Origin of Species. There, he introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve during generations through a process known as natural selection.

Chilean Flamingos (Yanina Druetta/Natura International)

After an ambitious scientific expedition to America, Von Humboldt changed his perception of how the world and nature were related. Von Humboldt saw the world as a great organism in which all living beings were connected in a delicate balance, and he was the first to study climate change caused by human action.

Today we look at the past from a very different reality. Society continues to evolve, and the knowledge obtained is abundant and within everyone’s reach. But unfortunately, there is a distance between humans and nature that dates back to the beginning of the industrial era, where the damage caused to forests, land, water and wildlife by the consumption of raw materials and the indiscriminate use of non-renewable resources has increased dramatically.

This quest for wealth that does not contemplate a sustainable way of production crushes any ethical and conservationist thinking about the environment and leads us to rethink the role of today’s naturalist. We know a lot about biodiversity, natural phenomena, ecological roles, ecosystem services, and many other topics, but… What is it that makes this concept of being a Naturalist more useful nowadays? What is the objective that these people -who possess the same spark of curiosity as those ancient researchers- have pursued? Undoubtedly, the answers to these questions are intimately linked to the extractivist way in which we behave on the planet.

Dulce river marshlands (Yanina Druetta/Natura International)

A Naturalist lives very closely with their love for nature–studies it, forms alliances with it, defends it. And this “mode” is activated every time we begin to observe all the wonderful things that surround us, finally understanding that we are also part of that environment; we need to get closer to it again to achieve that harmonious coexistence that causes endless benefits for both.

A modern naturalist is probably not a faithful reflection of those pioneers of ancient times who only wanted to discover and understand. A modern naturalist, beyond wanting to learn and understand, is convinced that curiosity and passion for nature are the fundamental tools that can inspire an entire society’s desire to change its relationship with the natural environment, making people interested in it and involved in its care.

Many times, I believe that being a naturalist also means being that bridge that connects and tries to raise awareness about the need to find the right balance between development and conservation that allows us all to leave green footprints in our journey through life.

By Alejandro Briones

Productive diversification is of utmost importance to improve the quality of life and economy of communities living in protected areas, without damaging the ecosystem. This is achieved by encouraging and empowering activities that are adapted to management guidelines that guarantee environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

To identify the various activities that can be promoted in a territory, initially a socio-environmental study should be conducted that focuses on the use of natural resources: how are they obtained, the history of that exploitation, eventual use (whether for self-consumption or sale), social organization, and obstacles or conflicts, among other analyses.

(CeDRUS)

The study allows us to know the context and the background of technical interventions, as well as to inform the joint social work that is deployed: in this instance the relationship generated between the technicians and the residents is key. This relationship is built through individual and group interviews, workshops where the inhabitants are the protagonists (in short, they are the ones who will or will not conserve the territory), and where the technicians only act as facilitators.

During these meetings, discussions elaborate the community’s environment, markets, and lifestyle relationship maps, among other group dynamics. Another technique that complements the workshops or interviews is participant observation: being able to live in the communities and observe residents’ daily activities gives us the chance to observe other relationships between people and nature.

Following are examples of productive activities carried out by the inhabitants of different protected areas or potential areas to be protected that, if well managed, are compatible with environmental conservation:

  • Livestock: The problem with this activity is that it is generally carried out without any planning or sales strategy. They have cattle as capital and sell them when they need the money and/or for self-consumption. As a consequence of this, the land has a high animal load, with resulting overgrazing and degradation of the ecosystem. In many cases, the cattle are old individuals that cannot be sold because there is no market for them. It is important to work together to develop a management plan, analyze the market and strengthen the marketing chain.
    It is also important, first, to carry out a study on the carrying capacity of the territory to define the maximum amount of livestock that can be supported in that area without affecting the attributes of the ecosystem and, based on that, to evaluate the best strategies.
    By carrying out good planning and a livestock rotation system, among other good practices, it is possible to conserve ecosystems by integrating livestock farming. In this scenario, the main market demand is for calves, which is favorable for the environment since they are sold a few months after weaning, limiting their time grazing on the land.

(Alejandro Briones/Natura International)

  • Activities associated with livestock raising: In addition, livestock raising can support various complementary activities that can be promoted to eventually reduce the animal load and improve the family economy. These include leather handicrafts (ties, saddles, instruments, etc.) and cheese production. These activities can be strengthened mainly with training in packaging and sales, searching for stable markets, marketing, etc. They can also be complemented with training in food handling, and sustainability certifications, among other possibilities.
  • Beekeeping: This activity is carried out by many communities, mainly for self-consumption and without any management. Usually, they go out to collect honey from hives installed in the hollows of some trees. Many times, the beekeepers have to cut down the tree in order to extract the honey. Therefore, there is room for improvement with training, installation of boxes, using an extraction room, and other actions.
    The sale and packaging of honey is also very important, since it is generally sold in used containers (bottles and/or jars) that have not been properly sterilized, which reduces the price and lowers the quality of the product. In addition, if good management is implemented, it is possible to obtain by-products that fetch a higher price than honey, such as propolis, pollen and wax. Beekeeping also improves pollination and therefore the production of local fruits.
  • Tourism: This is one of the main sustainable activities associated with protected areas and there is a lot of information about it. It is important to encourage not only ecotourism or hiking but also rural tourism or community tourism, where visitors can interact with the communities, learn and become involved in their way of life. This is fundamental for valuing the culture of the people who live in protected areas.
    Another strategy is to develop research tourism. There are many researchers from different parts of the world who are dedicated to studying certain species found within the protected area, and they can pay the communities in exchange for lodging, food, and other services.

(Alejandro Briones)

  • Fruits of the forest: There are various native plant species with edible fruits. Unfortunately, as a result of marketing, we have become accustomed to exotic fruits, leaving aside our native fruits. Beyond direct consumption of the fruits, there are also remarkable derivatives, such as carob flour, chañar rice, and sweet willow, among many others. One can look for ways to open new markets and promote these products.
    There are also many forage species. For example, the communities of the Chaco collect the fruits of the carob tree and store them to feed livestock in critical times. This is an important native species to prioritize for restoration, since the carob tree was historically cut for timber and continues to be harvested. It is a key species in various ecosystems and is often found along the banks of watering holes.
  • Wood: The harvesting of wood for firewood, posts for fences, or house construction is an activity that, if not carried out under proper management and control, can lead to degradation of the ecosystem. For this to be a sustainable activity, it is essential to carry out a forest inventory and mapping that allows us to know the structure of the forest as a whole, of each species in particular, and their distribution. From this, it is possible to plan how many individuals of each species can be cut annually so as not to affect the attributes of the forest, establish the sites where they can be extracted each year, and promote the use of dead wood, among other practices that guarantee the survival of the forest in perpetuity.

(Alejandro Briones)

  • Medicinal plants: Almost all of our ecosystems have medicinal plants that communities use. Many communities raise the need to not lose that custom and to be able to preserve that knowledge for future generations. Also, some people take these plants to the central markets and sell them in small bags or handfuls. One can add value to medicinal plants by packing them, registering them, and doing research on the specific components of plants by relating ancestral knowledge to the scientist in order to enhance their use and therefore their market.
  • Craftwork in wood, native plant fibers, and leather: It is usual among the inhabitants of protected areas to make handicrafts with different materials from the area, which in all cases are handmade without damaging the ecosystem, so it is another very feasible activity to promote and market, as a way to bring capital into the economic system of the territory.

(Alejandro Briones/Natura International)

  • Agroecology: Most families in rural areas have their orchard and/or farm, or had it at some point and, for various reasons, abandoned it. Most of them have been turned away from their traditional forms of production and encouraged to carry out new practices that incorporate the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and other compounds that damage the soil and generate dependence on these products. To solve this problem, it is important to raise awareness about ecological agriculture and to achieve some type of organic certification, among other strategies.

The activities that can be promoted or strengthened in a specific area to conserve ecosystem services are diverse, and many are directly or indirectly related to each other. Proper management is key to ensuring the sustainability of the territory.

Diversifying production and services makes it possible, to improve family economies and their quality of life, reduce risks to market changes, adapt to local biophysical conditions, make efficient use of locally available resources, avoid land degradation with consequent desertification, reduce the impact on the environment and even improve the ecosystem. In conclusion, it is a strategy that guarantees the adaptation and resilience of communities to climate and market changes and guarantees the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of a territory.

Mar Chiquita Lagoon, a saltwater body of water located northeast of Cordoba and southeast of Santiago del Estero, is home to the largest clutch of Chilean flamingos in Latin America in the 2020-2021 breeding season.
Local conservation experts indicate that in recent months more than 300,000 individuals were counted and seven clutches of Chilean flamingos were observed. Flamingo censuses in Mar Chiquita began to be carried out by park ranger and member of the High Andean Flamingo Conservation Group (GCFA) Pablo Michelutti, and continue to this day.
The flights to count the birds are carried out at two times of the year, during the summer and winter. Three organizations collaborate to carry out the censuses: the GCFA, Natura International and the Cordoba Secretariat of Environment.

(Lucila Castro / Natura International)

The Mar Chiquita Lagoon and the Dulce River marshes, in addition to being the habitat and breeding place of the Chilean flamingo, are a migration point for the Andean flamingo (or great flamingo) and the Puna flamingo (also called the small flamingo), which is why three species of flamingos of the six existing in the world can be observed in the area. On the other hand, there are approximately 380 species of resident and migratory birds in the area, making the wetland one of the richest in the world in terms of biodiversity.
An adult Chilean flamingo can reach an average length of 100 centimeters, and has long legs and a curved beak, adapted for foraging in the muddy lagoon. They are born with grayish, brownish or white plumage. When they reach maturity, the feathers take on pink tones because the flamingos feed on algae and crustaceans native to the area, which contain pigments. Depending on where they live and the species they feed on, the pinkish hue of the flamingos’ feathers can vary in intensity.

(Yanina Druetta / Natura International)

How the censuses are carried out

The Mar Chiquita Lagoon and the marshes of the Dulce River extend over almost one million hectares in northeastern Cordoba and southeastern Santiago del Estero. Aerial surveys are the only viable way, for the moment, to estimate bird populations in such extensive wetlands.

During the flight, a census taker goes to each side of the plane to carry out the photographic survey. Together with the gauging methodology, these images are processed in software and are useful to directly count the number of individuals and which species inhabit the wetland.

Courtship and nesting

Some years, with the arrival of September and the increase in temperature, flamingos congregate in the wetland to begin courtship. There, flamingos of reproductive age gather in groups and perform a dance to attract mates. When they succeed, they mate.

(Yanina Druetta / Natura International)

If the process is successful, the flamingo couple builds a nest on the banks of the Mar Chiquita Lagoon, where a single egg is deposited. From there, the couple protects the egg until the chick hatches.
It is of great importance to generate instances of conservation in the sector. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Chilean flamingos are almost threatened, and their population trend is decreasing.
Flamingos are very sensitive birds. If frightened, they abandon the nests en masse, leave the site and leave the eggs and hatchlings to drift away. It is very important not to disturb them so that they can reproduce normally.

(Matías Michelutti)

A promise of conservation

The future Ansenuza National Park is nearing its creation. When it is established, the nearly one million hectares between the lagoon and the marshes will be protected under a legal framework, which will contribute to the conservation of these species.
Once the park is created, economic activities can be carried out around it in a sustainable manner, without affecting the local flora and fauna. In addition, with the new protected area, there will be new personnel and a specific budget dedicated to preserving the wetland.
To achieve the creation of Ansenuza National Park, environmental training and education of all the stakeholders involved in the establishment process is essential. In addition, it is necessary to develop agreements that will lead to the changes in land use necessary to create the area.