Research reveals hope for Chile’s vulnerable güiña wildcat

DICE research reveals that the declining güiña wildcat is more adaptable than previously thought.

Research carried out by a former PhD candidate Dr Nicolas Galvez while studying at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) has discovered that the güiña wildcat from Chile is more tolerant of deforestation and direct killing by people as retaliation for attacking livestock (poultry) than thought, but that land loss due to intensive farming poses a far bigger risk to its future.

The güiña has been in decline for many years, with its population estimated to be fewer than 10,000 individuals, and it has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996.

The güiña has a reputation for attacking livestock and, therefore, is perceived negatively by rural inhabitants in the region. As a result, it had been assumed that a major threat to the future of the güiña was human persecution, coupled with extensive farming and logging that has seen its habitat reduced by almost 70% since 1970.

However, through a series of questionnaires, camera trap data and remote-sensed images the researchers, led by Dr Galvez, found that the güiña is remarkably adaptable to forest loss.

In particular the team found that large, intensive agricultural areas are actually well suited for the güiña and should not be dismissed as poor quality habitat. This is because there are often unfarmed areas that provide refuge, food resources and suitable conditions for rearing young.

As a result of this, the researchers suggested that farmers with large properties are key stakeholders in the conservation of this species and must be at the centre of any conservation interventions that aim to protect existing land where the güiña is usually found.

The findings also highlight a framework that can be used to spatially match social and ecological data which could help with conservation efforts for other similar small to medium-sized carnivores in other parts of the world. The framework provides a clearer understanding of how habitat loss, land fragmentation and human interactions affect species survival.

The paper has been published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, entitled A spatially integrated framework for assessing socioecological drivers of carnivore decline. Dr Nicolas Galvez is now a lecturer at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

Dr Galvez’s research was supervised by Professor Zoe Davies from DICE, within the School of Anthropology and Conservation.

Other academic institutions involved in the research were: the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the university´s Centre for Local Development (CEDEL-UC), University of Melbourne, Bangor University, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (wildCRU) at University of Oxford.