Puma-Livestock Conflicts in Central Argentina

Mountain Lion by Sawtooth. CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the most noteworthy facts about pumas (Puma concolor, mountain lions, cougars) is that their range extends from Canada to Argentina (Nielsen, Thompson, Kelly, & Lopez-Gonzalez, 2015). Unfortunately, I know very little about pumas at the northern and southern ends of their territory.

I was quite excited, then, when a reader notified me about a recent study concerning puma-livestock conflicts in Argentina.

The study, titled “Characterization of Puma-Livestock Conflicts in Rangelands of Central Argentina,” was conducted by Guerisoli et al. (2017). It is quite fascinating in that it measured the amount of livestock lost to pumas in two Argentinean counties (Villarino and Patagones), along with the number of pumas killed by ranchers.

This allowed the researchers to see if the levels of puma hunting matched the rates of livestock depredation (attacks on livestock by wild animals).

In addition, Guerisoli et al. (2017) used both qualitative research methods ­– in the form of semi-structured interviews – and quantitative methods. These latter, numerical methods included: questionnaires, measuring the distances from livestock kill sites to various habitat types, financial losses incurred by ranchers, and more.

Puma of Patagonia, Torres del Paine, Chile by Gregoire Dubois. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This is important, because qualitative and quantitative methods have different strengths and weaknesses. The former methods can generate rich, nuanced data about a specific topic amongst a particular population. Quantitative data, by contrast, is more reliable and generalizable across populations. While one’s choice of methods is ultimately determined by their research questions,  using both qualitative and quantitative approaches (called ‘mixed-methods’ design) can help to minimize the shortcomings of relying on just one type of data.

Beautiful Django by Tambako the Jaguar. CC BY-ND 2.0

In this case, Guerisoli et al. (2017) conducted 111 and 102 semi-structured interviews in Villarino and Patagones counties, respectively. They then backed up what the ranchers told them with their own, quantitative investigations.

At the end of their eight-year (2007-2015) data collection phase, Guerisoli et al. (2017) had learned a great deal. Their results included:

  • Pumas targeted sheep much more frequently than cattle.
  • Both the rates and financial impacts of depredation were higher in Villarino county that in Patagones – usually.
  • Proportions of sheep lost ranged from 0.1% – 51.9% in Villarino County and 0.7% – 86.7% in Patagones (Guerisoli et al., 2017, p. 5).
  • In Villarino, 67.3% of interviewees said they had previously hunted pumas. The corresponding figure was 82.5% in Patagones County (Guerisoli et al., 2017, p. 5).
  • Puma hunting by ranchers appeared to be largely in response to livestock depredation in Villarino county. But in Patagones, the level of puma hunting was considerably higher than the rate of livestock losses.
  • Attacks on livestock occurred most frequently near grassland habitats with scrub, and least often near forests.

As the above numbers indicate, the impacts of livestock depredation were not evenly distributed. Guerisoli et al. (2017) found that while some ranchers could easily absorb livestock losses, others lost so many animals to pumas that they could not continue ranching.

It is important to remember that while the overall impacts of livestock depredation in a region may be low, some ranchers suffer more than others. Yet another reason why one must try to stay non-judgmental when working with livestock producers. Smoked Sheep by Stanze. CC BY-SA 2.0

Another important finding was that most ranchers in both counties told Guerisoli et al. (2017) that controlling pumas was the best way to protect livestock. In contrast, multiple studies from North America have concluded that high rates of puma hunting can increase livestock depredation and threats to human safety (Peebles, Wielgus, Maletzke, & Swanson, 2013; Teichman, Cristescu, & Darimont, 2016).

Relatedly, Guerisoli et al. (2017) reported that humans kill large numbers of pumas in Buenos Aires province (where their study took place) and in other Patagonian provinces. Yet livestock depredation continues.

Management practices like corralling sheep at night are likely to better protect livestock than killing pumas, but rural depopulation (people leaving rural areas) could make it hard for ranchers to adopt such initiatives.

Lastly, Guerisoli et al. (2017) stressed that puma hunting is not solely motivated by livestock depredation: there are other factors involved. It is therefore crucial to work with ranchers to increase their tolerance for pumas.

This post has been a small snapshot of Guerisoli et al.’s (2017) study. Please follow the link below for their full paper.

Click Here to Read Guerisoli et al.’s (2017) Full Paper

22 Thoughts

  1. I always learn something new from your posts! Not just about big cats. Today, you laid out very succinctly the difference between quantitative and qualitative data. Which I sort of, kind of knew. But you make it make sense. Thanks again for a great post!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re fighting to save living works of natural art. You’re doing it with education and advocacy, which takes time and effort. Vision and principled passion are what make us human. You are doing what you think is right and that’s all that matters.

        You may decide to do something else in the future but never doubt the importance of what you’re choosing to do now.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wow, you zeroed in on my impatience with almost no prompting. That’s impressive.

          You’re right, of course. This is not a pursuit that’s going to produce immediate gratification, since we’re trying to correct centuries of overexploitation of both people and non-human nature. I have no clue what I’ll be doing in the future, but it’ll always involve advocacy in some form.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Your very welcome 🙂

        Well that is definitely a good start.
        Their willingness to also trust each other is key. Once they have that respectful understanding of each other, that should help smoothen out their partnerships.

        Is it just me or did I use to many “that’s” in this comment 😟

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I had no idea the range of land these beautiful cats inhabit. The conundrum is sad on both ends. It shocked/saddened me to read that some of the ranchers had been effected to the point of not being able to ranch anymore. How devastating that must be for those families as well as the surrounding community.

    I have a few questions. :)

    What are the other motivations for puma hunting besides the depredation issue?
    How does high rates of puma hunting increase livestock depredation? (This intrigued me.)
    I noticed in one of your replies to a comment you said there are ways to protect livestock from pumas. I’d be curious to know what those ways are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello!

      Yes, some livestock producers can be hit hard by depredation. My guess, though, is that only a tiny percentage had to give up ranching. That’s still not good though, for the rangers or for the cats’ reputations.

      In this case, I haven’t seen anything published about what the other motivations are for puma hunting in these two Argentinean counties. Many studies I’ve read about large predator hunting in other communities, though, stress factors like social identity: killing jaguars, wolves, etc. because it’s part of the local culture. Here’s a post about that:

      https://thejaguarandallies.com/2015/12/30/how-social-identity-can-influence-conservation/

      High rates of puma hunting can increase depredation by messing up the cats’ social structures. Removing too many older males through hunting leaves a disproportionate amount of younger males in an area, who are not as ‘people smart’ and tend to cause more trouble.

      There are many ways to protect livestock: sheltering them at night in corrals or other structures, guard dogs, bright lights, keeping their corrals closer to human houses, etc. Unfortunately all of these measure require money and labor, which are not always plentiful.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is great! Thank you for answering my questions. I don’t know much about ranch life, I guess I thought that bringing your livestock inside each night was common.

        Dogs, that’s a great idea. I understand that Great White Pyrenees are great for this.

        Makes sense about messing up the social structure. It’s just one big ugly cycle. It’s quite sad.

        Like

  3. I’ll echo the earlier sentiments about constantly learning something new from your posts. Wildlife conservation and livestock depredation are, like many of our biggest issues, not simple ones. They require multiple analyses like the study you cite here, as well as complex solutions – like working with ranchers instead of judging them – with the larger goal of helping these gorgeous creatures continue being a top predator and an integral species in our ecosystem.

    Like

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