Category Archives: Restoration

Down to Tierra del Fuego to Sign Yendegaia Park into National Park Status

Group at Yendegaia

Photo: gob.cl

In early January, Doug Tompkins joined Chilean president Sebastian Piñera in the country’s southernmost region as the President officially designated the new Yendegaia National Park.  Despite some wet weather, the group managed to arrive within the bounds of the new park for a brief but energetic ceremony.

Doug and El Presidente

President Sebastian Piñera and Doug Tompkins
Photo: Rodrigo Noriega

In his speech, Piñera thanked Tompkins Conservation for the land donation, reflecting that “this park has been created thanks to the efforts of Douglas Tompkins and his wife Kris, who have donated around 38,000 hectares to the Chilean State. This, combined with a further 112,000 hectares of State-owned land, will make up the Yendegaia National Park.” More on his remarks here.

Varios del grupo

Various members of the park-making team
Photo: Rodrigo Noriega

Our team felt proud of this historic moment, as creating a new national park requires close collaboration with numerous governmental authorities and demands careful management and strategy.  The completion of this donation represents a very positive step toward partnering with the Chilean government to create other national parks down the line!

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Town pride with paint: Village beautification speeds along in El Amarillo

Where’s the center of the world? Signs tell us that it lies in the small village of El Amarillo, at the southern entrance of Pumalin Park. On the Carretera Austral just a few kilometers south of the volcano-impacted town of Chaiten, El Amarillo is becoming a hub for tourists to Pumalin—and a pleasant place to live for its 100 or so residents.

Eight years ago, the Conservation Land Trust launched a village beautification project in El Amarillo, spearheaded by young local architect Marcela Ojeda. At the time, the village consisted of a few dozen houses, almost all rundown. A few small markets sold basic goods, and a few houses had rooms for travelers to rent, but for the most part, tourists had to stop in Chaiten or further south on the Carretera Austral to find services.  Although in a prime location—next to Pumalin, with phenomenal views of Volcan Michimahuida and the Tabiques Mountains—El Amarillo had not developed much of its ecotourism potential. Visitors would zoom past on the road, and many younger residents aimed to move away to find other opportunities.

El Amarillo’s natural beauty; here, looking toward Michimahuida

Since 2005, the village beautification project has worked with many families to put their houses in order, with paint, repairs, yard work, and landscaping. The Pumalin project sponsors the initial fix-up of houses, with the owners agreeing to cover maintenance and repairs in the future. The team works with families on the design and schedule of the repairs, and asks for their participation when possible.

A bit of paint, carpentry and yard work can go a long way. Many of the seemingly unredeemable structures in town have been reborn as full-of-character homes with simple but well-planned facelifts. With help from volunteers from around the world, over a dozen houses in the village have been transformed.

A home made of an old shipping container, transformed into a cute country cottage

Meanwhile, the team has designed and constructed a new supermarket and gas station in town, to put El Amarillo on the map of tourist services in the region.

Running a gas station never topped the list of projects for conservationists before, but given the distance to the next place to refill, the station offers an important service, and draw for the community.

The supermarket carries a different variety of goods from those offered in the preexisting markets: hardware, organic vegetables, woolen goods, books, and souvenirs, among other items.

The basic idea of the project, as Doug explains it, is to build house pride through simple fix-ups, painting, and landscaping. House pride extends to pride for community, as the whole village becomes more orderly and pleasant, and an appealing destination for visitors. As the foreground—houses, yards, and common spaces—grows more beautiful, locals and visitors alike can admire and savor the spectacular natural setting of the village, gaining respect for the wilderness that surrounds them.

Explaining the big idea of El Amarillo to visitors

Care for house and connection to community grow into responsibility to place and land.  Without preaching ecological values, the village cleanup effort improves locals’ living conditions and economic opportunities while encouraging them to embrace the area’s remarkable natural surroundings.

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Architect of the “chirimbolos”: An interview with Marcela Ojeda

Young architect and El Amarillo native Marcela Ojeda has spearheaded the project to beautify her village.  We talked recently during a tour of El Amarillo about the project’s history and impact.

Marcela Ojeda

Q.  How did you meet Doug and get to know the Pumalin project?

I grew up right here in El Amarillo, and my parents run a simple bed and breakfast here.  When the Pumalin team started working in the southern part of the park in 2002, they needed a place to stay, and so started coming to my parents’ place. One day, Doug stopped in to chat with my parents, and heard that I was studying architecture at university.  Knowing we had a resident architect-in-training, he started planning out a village beautification effort.  Ale Retenal, a long-time Pumalin team member, hired me to work over the summer of 2005 while I was in school.

Marcela’s family’s house, now fixed up as part of the project

Q.  How did the first years of the project go?

As we started developing the idea of this project, we did not want to start with my parents’ house, because that would seem biased.  Some were hesitant to work with us initially, because they did not understand why we’d help them fix up their house.  However, our neighbor across the street offered her house as the “pilot project”—more because she knew and trusted my family than because she agreed with the project.  We painted her house, built a new fence, did landscaping work, built a new shed, and more.  Once others saw the transformation, they became more open to the idea of the project.

The first house, and homeowner, to join the village beautification project

For the first year or two, I spent a lot of time talking to various families about the project, to minimize suspicion and find new people to work with.  With each family who joined the project, I would talk with them about what color paint they wanted, what sort of fence, ideas for landscaping, etc.  I give suggestions and ideas: usually people want advice on what colors look best together and what fence style would fit their property.

One of the current projects underway

Gradually, convincing people has become easier and easier, to the point that now, we have a long list of people waiting for us to help them out.  We’re working as fast as possible, but almost everyone wants help!  There are only so many painters around El Amarillo, and only so many sunny days, so there is a limit to how much we can accomplish each season.

Q.  Describe one of the fix-up jobs you’ve worked on.

One of my favorite jobs has been the clean up of Supermarcado Las Rosas, a simple market with some rooms for tourists upstairs.  The woman who runs it is old and sickly, and has to take care of several grandchildren, all by herself.  Her business was struggling, as the structure was ramshackle and not very appealing to tourists, and she had no other means of supporting herself and her family.  We gave the building a dramatic facelift: improving its structural integrity, cleaning up the inside to give the family better living conditions and offer better accommodations to tourists, and painting it a bright, cheerful red with blue trim.

Supermarcado Las Rosas, a few years ago

Final touches on the make-over, January 2013

When Doug and I visited her last fall, she came out crying, telling us how much we had changed her life, and how much she enjoyed working with our crew. Not only did she appreciate the fix-ups to her house, but she also savored the help and friendship of the workmen from our team who spent time with her.  She told us that she would never have had the money or energy to do the remodeling herself, but that she and her family would do their best to keep the building in good shape going forward.

Q.  How would you describe the architectural style of the town? 

Our goal was to use a vernacular style here that fit with pre-existing buildings and used familiar materials.  We’ve developed “chirimbolos”—architectural details that add a touch of decoration and style to simple structures. Our sign shop, headed by the inveterate craftsman Dante, creates wood detailing that really spruce up the houses.  Each house has a slightly different style, but they are variations on a theme.

I enjoy working with corrugated tin, because it is so typical in this region. Some architects might look down on it, but it is functional and durable, and when used correctly, can be appealing as well.  Finding a style that is inexpensive and accessible to our neighbors is an interesting challenge, but a fun one.

Q.  What have been the biggest results of the project?

Cleaning up the town has changed the outlook of the community.  There is much more recognization of the beauty we live with, and sense of opportunity in our location.  Moreover, our neighboring towns would like to imitate what we have done.  We just had a visit from a man from Puerto Cardenas, south on the Carretera Austral, who wants to start a similar town fix-up there.  El Amarillo is now the pride of the region, instead of a forgotten little town.  As an architect, it’s inspiring to see how changing the physical appearance of a place can change its spirit as well.

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Five years of relocation and recovery for the giant anteater at Iberá

Photo credit: Evangelina Indelicato and Luis Piovani

Five years ago, on October 17th, 2007, two giant anteaters named Ivoty Porá and Preto stepped out of their traveling cages to begin a free life in the grasslands of Rincón del Socorro property, in the area of the Iberá wetlands. A small group of supporters—park guards, townspeople, neighbors, and CLT team members—looked on with a heady mix of joy, nerves and pride. After many decades of absence, the giant anteaters were finally returning to roam the wilds of Corrientes! Since then, the program (and the population of giant anteaters) has flourished, and Ivoty Porá is the proud mother of four offspring born free at Iberá.

Ivoty with her fourth offspring. Photo taken with a camera trap.

Once common, the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla has been largely absent from the Corrientes Province for decades, suffering from habitat loss and persecution by humans. Over time, the giant anteater disappeared not only from the wildlands of Corrientes, but also from the cultural memory of most of its human inhabitants. Now after five years of dedicated work by our team of wildlife biologists and conservationists, it looks like history is ready to give the giant anteater a second chance, with a population of 28 introduced and 9 new native-born anteaters settling in to life at Iberá.

Graph demonstrating population dynamics of giant anteaters at the Iberá Natural Reserve.

This November 22nd, we (CLT) commemorated the fifth anniversary of the project along with dozens of supporters and collaborators. Beer, wine, choripán and laughter colored the evening of celebration, and the stories of favorite anteater “personalities” were retold. There was Tota, a heavy-set anteater that went missing for more than a year and was finally discovered, thin and haggard, dozens of miles from the reserve. After careful rehabilitation, Tota went on to father two healthy offspring that same year. There was Hata, run over by a car in Santiago del Estero, who endured five surgeries on his mangled leg, and still went on to live two happy years with us. And we can’t forget Formoseña, a beautiful female whose health was restored from critical condition so she could become a mother living freely at Iberá. But perhaps most of all we celebrated Ivoty, the first female to bear offspring native to the reserve, now a mother of four.

George Schaller looks on as the team examines one of the Iberá anteaters

Attending the celebration in spirit was world-renown naturalist George Schaller, whose pioneering studies with species as charismatic and difficult to study as the lion, the tiger, the jaguar, the mountain gorilla, the panda, and the snow leopard have inspired so many in the conservation community over the years. In 1975, Schaller was the first biologist to study the endangered pampas deer here at the Iberá reserve. A few months ago, Schaller returned to Iberá after forty years of absence, joyful to find that his original studies helped inspire the ground-breaking reintroductions of both the pampas deer and the giant anteater here in this magnificent landscape. What a pleasure to share our accomplishments in conservation with someone as knowledgeable and experienced as Schaller, from whom we have all learned so much!

As the project continues to grow and more personalities are added to the group, the drama only gets more interesting . Over the last year, we added a total of seven new anteaters to the population: three juveniles, two adult males, and two adult females. We also brought in our first anteater born in captivity—Poty, a young mother donated to the project by the Giant Anteater Conservation Project and the Barcelona Zoo. Our new additions were sadly punctuated by bad tidings, with four creatures falling to an especially harsh period of frost. These deaths have not only brought sadness to our study, but have also inspired us to hold higher standards of monitoring and care for this sensitive creature, especially in the first years of life in a new environment.

Slowly but surely, the giant anteater is returning to ecosystem of Iberá. Of the 28 released anteaters, we know that at least 24–and up to 27–are still alive and flourishing. Four of the females have successfully given birth to a total of nine Iberá-native offspring, and we look forward to our younger females joining the ranks of anteater mothers. Over the last two years of the project, various park guards and tourists have even reported encountering anteaters in the outskirts of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. Their range is spreading, and we couldn’t be more pleased.

This map demonstrates the locations and ranges of the anteaters that live within the Rincón del Socorro reserve at Iberá.

We wish to take the opportunity of our fifth anniversary to thank the many institutions and people who have made possible the return of this emblematic animal at Iberá. Thanks to the authorities of Corrientes, through two governments and various directors, who have always maintained their support of the project. Thanks to Dirección de Fauna Silvestre de Argentina, which provided critical public support in the early experimental stages. Thanks to the governments of Santiago del Estero, Jujuy, Salta, Formosa and Chaco, which supplied the all-important base material for the project through the donation of rescued anteaters. To these honorees, we add Estación Experimental Horco Molle, the Florencio Varela Zoo, and all of the scientific advisors who have guided us through this exciting process. Finally, thanks to the CLT team, and to our volunteers who have followed and supported our work from rescue to recovery to release. Thanks to all for five years filled with learning, mistakes, insights, good and bad news, inspiring collaborations, and great satisfaction in this exciting venture!

The Patagonia store in Buenos Aires joined us in celebrating this momentous occasion. Check out this video for lively scenes from the anteaters’ fifth “birthday party,” along with further details on the meaning of this project.

For more information about this project and other ventures in the restoration of endangered species at Iberá, please visit our website.

The very first anteater is released at the reserve in 2007.

Two juveniles, Pancha and Tinelli, come to feed

Kari and Yamill fix a new collar on Lionel

Diana adjusts Renata’s radio collar.

A baby anteater, recently introduced to the reserve

Protected, and free to range the marshes of Iberá!

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The pampas deer returns to the pampas: Restoring a keystone species at the Iberá Natural Reserve

Once the reigning “king of the pampas,” the pampas deer now struggles to find a stretch of grass to call its own in the vanishing wilds of Argentina’s prairies.  Once said to roam by the thousands throughout its namesake pampas (prairies, or plains, in English), current population estimates in Argentina suggest fewer than 3,000 individuals remain.

The wildlife team at the Iberá Natural Reserve is working to reverse this trend, defending its existing populations in the wild, and reintroducing new, viable populations to protected areas within its historic range.  In an exciting recent expedition, the Iberá team captured six wild deer for relocation to the Iberá Natural Reserve, where the species had formerly been extirpated.  These six individuals joined a growing cohort of re-introduced pampas deer at Iberá, where current population levels stand at 31 individuals, with new fawns on the way.

A poster from the outreach campaign

Veterinarians examine a young deer

The pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus) is a small and delicate-looking creature, suited to a quiet, non-migratory life in the tall grasses of the Argentine pampas.  Their presence in the landscape was ubiquitous until the turn of the 20th century, when the rapid conversion of the grasslands into cattle pastures, agricultural farms and tree plantations tore relentlessly into the heart of the pampas deer’s habitat.  Today, the pampas is considered one of the most endangered habitats on earth: the precipitous decline of the pampas deer is a warning sign of the near-extinction of this ancient grazing paradise.

The conservation team at the Iberá Natural Reserve in Argentina’s Corrientes Province is working to reverse the prevailing trends of habitat and species loss in the region by saving and restoring native ecosystems and their characteristic flora and fauna.  High on the priority list is the reintroduction of the locally extirpated pampas deer to the grasslands of Iberá.

A mother nuzzles her fawn, born on-site at Iberá

A male deer wearing a radio tracking collar

The Iberá pampas deer recovery program has two major goals: first, to stabilize the existing population in the Aguapey region that neighbors the reserve, and second, to re-introduce a self-sustaining population within the reserve itself, thus broadening the deer’s total range.

As of November of 2012, the Iberá team has conducted over six years of surveys on the existing population in Aguapey, and has also performed a variety of public outreach programs designed to heighten awareness of the deer’s decline, and curb further population loss.  With the help of Argentina Flora and Fauna, the team has established a 535-hectare reserve dedicated exclusively to the conservation of the pampas deer.  This reserve is called Guasutí Ñu, or Land of Deer in the native language of Guaraní.

Reintroduction to the Iberá Natural Reserve has also been an ongoing success: to date, a total population of 31 individuals has been established in two of our reserves sited within Iberá, with new generations of fawns successfully surviving to adulthood in their new home range.  With just four other remaining populations of pampas deer in Argentina, this new population at Iberá raises the total to five.  This may seem like a small victory, but as the first official reintroduction of the pampas deer to date, it is an essential step forward to the long-term recovery of the wild, boundless pampas of Argentina.

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