Author Archives: Tompkins Conservation

Donor Spotlight: T.A. Barron

T. A. Barron is the award-winning, internationally bestselling author of more than 30 books for children and adults, including The Merlin Saga. All his books have environmental themes. He also loves hiking, camping, and skiing in Colorado with his family.

What motivates you to support conservation and/or Tompkins Conservation in particular?

I support environmental groups because they are great forces for good, healthy, sustainable life on our fragile planet! It’s that simple. Without the dedicated, savvy, hard-working folks at those groups—people who could be making lots more money doing something else, if that was all they cared about—we are lost. With them…we have a genuine chance to save our planet. Our children. Our fellow creatures. And ourselves.

In sum, I support environmental organizations because I can’t give up on this home planet of ours. Yes, it is beleaguered and trashed and attacked on every level. That we know beyond doubt. But it is also full of enduring wonder, beauty, and mystery—a place that nourishes us physically and spiritually every single day.

What environmental groups provide, at the core, is a chance for life on Earth to survive. And something more — a chance for humanity to rise to a higher level. To be inspired to choose long-term wisdom over short-term greed. To be our best selves as stewards of this planet.

No better example exists than Tompkins Conservation. Inspired by a bold, magnificent dream to protect forever the most marvelous wild ecosystems of Patagonia, this organization continues to make enormous progress, helping the people, plants, and creatures of this wondrous region to live in natural harmony. Whenever I feel burdened by the weight of the Earth’s environmental challenges, I think of Tompkins Conservation and my hope is renewed.

Do you address environmental issues when writing for young audiences?

Nature is hugely important in all my books. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I treat the natural world not merely as a setting, a backdrop for my stories—but as a full-blown character. Places are alive, just like you or me. They have moods, histories, and qualities that can be bizarre, humorous, tragic, mysterious, or inspiring. Part of my job as a writer is to make those places so real, so sensuous, so fully alive, that readers want to voyage there again and again. In this way, environmental awareness is woven through all my books.

On top of that, I always weave environmental themes into my books. I truly believe that saving the Earth is about saving our fellow creatures—as well as ourselves. Stories are a wonderful way to convey this idea, sometimes directly and sometimes through metaphors.

My books about the young wizard Merlin — 13 books in all, now translated into more than two dozen languages — are really an extended environmental parable. Merlin (much like the guy who wrote the books) learns all his greatest lessons from nature. His elemental magic comes from listening to the language of rivers and trees, flying as a hawk, and running with the deer.

Here’s an excerpt (from The Fires of Merlin) when he becomes a stag:

“Somehow, in a mysterious way, I was listening not just to sounds, but to the land itself. I could hear, not with my ears but with my bones, the tensing and flexing of the earth under my hooves, the changing flow of the wind, the secret connections among all the creatures who shared these meadows—whether they crawled, slithered, flew, or ran. Not only did I hear them; I celebrated them, for we were bound together as securely as a blade of grass is bound to the soil.”

As a longtime author writing for young people, do you see children’s relationship with the natural world changing?

The most important thing is to convey to our children, through actions as well as words, the interdependence of all living creatures. We all belong to the same family; we are part of the community of species; our fate is connected to the health of our planet.

How do we convey these ideas? Through the stories we share… and the places we share. Sure, there are worrisome examples of young people feeling less connected to nature — but that’s no match for nature’s powers of inspiration.

For example… just take children outside to look at the stars together on a summer night. It’s always a delight to watch kids wake up to the wonder. There is nothing like gazing up at the stars to feel both very small, and very large, at once — to feel humbled by the vast sweep of creation, and, at the same time, to feel enlarged because we are all part of that creation.

Does your interest in Patagonia and the Route of Parks stem from your travels there?

Actually, I felt the allure of Patagonia long before I was ever able to go there. Not from any particular source, but from the name itself — its association with the most wild and wonderful places on Earth. So when I turned 50, I gave myself a special birthday present of a 3-week trip to Patagonia. My wife and I hiked through many unforgettable parts of Chile and Argentina. And I’ve gone back several times since, because the magic of this place only keeps growing.

Now the Route of Parks promises to inspire many others from around the globe to come and experience the treasures of Patagonia. But be warned: No single visit will be enough. You, like me, will come back. And you, like me, will feel deep and enduring gratitude to Tompkins Conservation!

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First Mating of a Wild and Captive Jaguar has produced two Cubs

The cubs will be raised by their captive mother in a secure enclosure without human contact in El Impenetrable National Park until they can be released into the wild. This novel approach brings new hope to recover this highly endangered species in the Argentine Chaco.

EL IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK, CHACO, ARG— The Province of Chaco, Argentina’s National Parks Administration and Rewilding Argentina have confirmed that Tania, a captive jaguar in the breeding program of Rewilding Argentina, has given birth to two cubs approximately three months after breeding with Qaramta, the sole wild jaguar in Impenetrable National Park. This is the first mating attempt between a wild and captive jaguar anywhere in the world.

In the Argentine Chaco, the situation for this top predator is critical. Poaching and deforestation have put America’s biggest cat in imminent danger of extinction. There are now fewer than 20 individual specimens left roaming the millions of hectares of this immense territory, yet, the species remains a powerful symbol of the region, according to Jorge Capitanich, the governor of Chaco Province, who announced the news.

The jaguar was believed to have gone extinct in El Impenetrable, a national park created in 2014 with help from Tompkins Conservation. Yet, the appearance of footprints on the muddy shores of the Bermejo River in September, 2019 kindled unexpected hope. Camera traps confirmed a young male roaming the area. He was fitted with a satellite collar to track his movements and named Qaramta, “the one who it cannot be destroyed, ” in the local Qom language. Today he is four years old and weighs 113.6 kilos. To keep him from roaming too far from the safety of the national park, Rewilding Argentina brought a captive female whose scent would anchor his movements until an adequate breeding pen could be constructed and authorization for mating was given by the local and national authorities.

“As we head into the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the time has come to take bold actions to save species, it’s essential to restoring ecosystems and ensuring planetary health for all,” says Kristine Tompkins, president of Tompkins Conservation and UN Patron of Protected Areas. “These jaguar cubs show that species by species, we can change the trajectory of mass extinctions.”

As a young male roaming a huge territory in search of a mate, Qaramta is much like the solitary jaguar specimens recorded in the Argentine Chaco and other areas where the species is on the verge of extinction, such as Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwestern US.  Tania, a captive breeder from Rewilding Argentina’s Jaguar Reintroduction Center in the Ibera wetlands of Argentina, had already successfully raised two cubs in that program; they are now slated for release in the wetlands. Previously a zoo specimen, her wild great-grandparents came from the Chaco, captured in 1989 as cubs orphaned by poachers.

Camera trap records indicate that Tania gave birth to two healthy cubs early on January 30th. They will be raised in large enclosures until they can be released when they reach maturity in two or three years. In the meantime, efforts will focus on protecting more of the territory around the Bermejo River as a safe haven for the species. Eradicating poaching and developing ecotourism will also be key. “We need to ensure an economy based on nature tourism, so that these cubs may roam freely and safely,” says Sofía Heinonen, executive director of Rewilding Argentina. “So that the jaguars and the people of El Impenetrable can coexist and prosper.”

Rewilding Argentina receives support from DOB Ecology to restore the Gran Chaco, and from its strategic partner Tompkins Conservation, a leader in rewilding and park creation in the Southern Cone.

For more information, contact carolynmccarthy@tompkinsconservation.org.

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Jaguars Roam Free in Argentina’s Iberá Wetlands for the First Time in 70 Years

Argentina has brought jaguars back to the vast Iberá wetlands, seventy years after the species was driven to local extinction through hunting and habitat loss.

An adult jaguar (Panthera onca) and her two captive-born cubs have been released into the wild, the first in a group, currently with nine individuals, slated to repopulate the species in the Gran Iberá Park, a protected 1.7 million acre wilderness of national and provincial parklands. Reestablishing this critically endangered species, of which only 200 remain in Argentina, is a crucial step in ensuring the ecological health of South America’s principal water basins and reestablishing a biological corridor for jaguars that once stretched continuously to the American Southwest.

“We have taken another great step for the preservation of the jaguar in Iberá,” announced Argentina’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Juan Cabandié. In Northeast Argentina, the jaguar has long been a symbol of strength in Guaraní heritage also representing the region’s cultural identity.

Saving the species was deemed a priority by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) at the World Conservation Congress in September, 2020. The largest feline in the Americas, the jaguar has lost over half its historical range, leaving some populations geographically isolated, losing their genetic diversity. When this happens, the jaguar is no longer able to fulfill its key ecological role as an apex predator.

“We congratulate the government of Argentina, Argentina’s National Parks and the Province of Corrientes for their commitment to rewilding this iconic species,” said Kristine Tompkins, president of Tompkins Conservation and UN Patron of Protected Areas. “As we start the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, it’s time to recognize the central role that rewilding can play in restoring climate stability and planetary health.”

Bringing back top predators such as the jaguar and the giant river otter, and seed bearers such as peccaries and macaws, is helping the Iberá wetlands recover from hunting and decades of cattle grazing and monoculture plantations, according to Sebastian Di Martino, Director of Conservation at Rewilding Argentina, a strategic partner of Tompkins Conservation. According to Di Martino, “Just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park recalibrated whole ecosystems that had fallen out of balance, jaguars can restore these wetlands. Rewilding is also revitalizing the economy of small communities throughout Corrientes Province through wildlife-watching and related services.”

Iberá National Park was created in 2018 with land donations made by Douglas and Kristine Tompkins via Tompkins Conservation, in collaboration with Rewilding Argentina and local and national authorities. A one-of-a-kind facility, the Jaguar Reintroduction Center, located in the wetlands, has so far bred six cubs, which alongside rehabilitated wild jaguars, will be released throughout 2021. In coordination with Argentina’s National Parks, Rewilding Argentina monitors the released population via signals from VHF and GPS transmitters on collared adult jaguars.


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by | January 19, 2021 · 02:46 PM

Mating Wild and Captive Jaguars to Save the Species

Nov 11, 2020 –IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK, ARG On October 17, 2020, an unlikely romance was underway in the Gran Chaco. A wild jaguar, the first discovered in Impenetrable National Park, entered the pen of a captive jaguar with the promise of mating. Their encounter is the product of months of a strange, socially-distanced courtship undertaken across solid steel fencing, monitored by cameras and a team of hopeful scientists from Rewilding Argentina. If the pairing is successful, these jaguars will become the first wild-captive pair to mate in history, key progenitors in an effort to repopulate a top predator of the Americas.

Matchmaking wild and not-so-wild jaguars is a highly creative solution to the larger issue of saving wild jaguars, a priority put forth by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) at the most recent World Conservation Congress in September, 2020. The largest feline in the Americas, they have lost over half their historical range from the southern US to Argentina, a loss of habitat which has left several populations of the species geographically isolated and some individuals unable to encounter mating partners.

Jaguars were thought to be already extinct in El Impenetrable National Park, created in 2014 with help from Tompkins Conservation. Continue reading

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Community Beautification in Chilean Patagonia

Tompkins Conservation Chile, together with the community of El Amarillo, in the region of Los Lagos, implemented a restoration plan for the gateway village to Pumalín Douglas Tompkins Park. A new e-book tells the story.

November 12, 2020. Improving the quality of life, generating local pride and stimulating small-scale tourism were the objectives of the beautification project promoted by Tompkins Conservation Chile together with the community of El Amarillo, a town located in the southern access point of the Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park, 25 kilometers from Chaitén.

With hopes to inspire other communities to carry out similar projects, Tompkins Conservation Chile launched a digital book that compiles the history of this collaborative program, which created a facelift for El Amarillo through the restoration of facades and fences, extensive landscaping, signage by local artisans, and the construction of attractive architectural details like “chirimbolos” (decorative moldings).

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Argentina Welcomes Red-and-Green Macaws: the first Born in the Wild in over a Century

Recently reintroduced red-and-green macaws have produced the first successful wild chicks in the Iberá wetlands in 150 years. Extinct throughout Argentina, the return of this species is also a key step in restoring native forests to this valuable ecosystem.

After several unsuccessful attempts, three red-and-green macaw hatchlings were born to a breeding pair reintroduced in 2019. The last registry of the species in Argentina was 150 years ago.

Rewilding the red-and-green macaw (Ara chloropterus) has proved an exceptional challenge. Rewilding Argentina, the strategic partner of Tompkins Conservation, started the process in 2015 with once-captive macaws that had never flown before. They required extensive training to live in the wild. So far, 15 macaws have been set free in Iberá and the nascent population is prospering.

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