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.

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

Filed under Restoration