Nueva publicación serie Fauna Australis

Conservación de Biodiversidad en predios agrícolas intensivos entrega en forma simple y didáctica una guía de reconocimiento de especies de flora y fauna nativa que deberías ser consideradas dentro de los planes de conservación en zonas rurales de Chile central.

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Conservación de Biodiversidad en la Agricultura de Chile central


Fauna Australis celebra 15 años

El laboratorio Fauna Australis del Departamento de Ecosistemas y Medio Ambiente celebró durante Marzo su aniversario número 15. El Laboratorio ha desarrollado una rica e intensa actividad académica basada en una mirada multidisciplinaria y de alcance nacional e internacional.

El director del Laboratorio, profesor Cristián Bonacic fue promovido a la categoría de profesor titular de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Además durante el II semestre del año 2015 y I semestre del 2016 realizó su sabático en Europa, Estados Unidos y Africa con el apoyo de la Vicerrectoría Académica y la prestigiosa Fundación Tinker de los Estados Unidos.

Durante el sabático dictó un curso de postgrado en el Nelson Institute de la Universidad de Wisconsin.

Los investigadores asociados y ex-alumnos de Fauna Australis Dr. Tomás Ibarra, Dr. Nicolás Gálvez y Dr. André Rubio obtuvieron sus PhDs en Canadá, Reino Unido y México durante los años 2015 y 2016.

La Dra Romina Alvarado, Dr. Tomas Altamirano y Dr. Nicolás Guarda obtuvieron sus doctorados en el año 2015 dentro del programa de Ciencias de la Agricultura de la Facultad de Agronomía e Ingeniería Forestal de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, bajo la supervisión del Prof Cristián Bonacic.

El laboratorio Fauna Australis ha publicado recientemente nuevos libros de su “Serie Fauna Australis” sobre micromamíferos, anfibios y reptiles de Tarapacá, El puma de Tarapacá y el Manual de Conservación de Biodiversidad en predios agrícolas de Chile central.


Diario de Terreno - puma tarapacá


Profesor Cristian Bonacic: La legalización del comercio sobre cuernos de rinoceronte no va a salvar la especie

Artículo en ingles:

Picture of white rhinoceroses in Kruger National Park in South Africa.

In South Africa in 2014, more than 1,000 white rhinos were poached for their horns—most in famed Kruger National Park. At current poaching levels, white rhinos could become extinct in the wild within 20 years.


Katarzyna Nowak

for National Geographic


Southern white rhinos could go extinct in the wild in less than 20 years.

Conservation efforts saved the species from an earlier brush with extinction. There were no more than 50 white rhinos in South Africa at the end of the 19th century. Today South Africa holds nearly all of Africa’s estimated 20,135 white rhinos.

But more than 1,215 were poached for their horns in 2014. A similar number were killed in 2013. The animals are expected to be in net decline by next year.

And yet in the lead-up to the next big meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to be held in Cape Town in October 2016, South Africa is expected to push hard for legalization of trade in the horns of southern white rhinos.

In Vietnam, among other Asian nations, powdered rhino horn is said to treat fevers and cure cancer, although no scientific studies exist to support such beliefs.

A legal trade, proponents argue, would reduce incentives for poaching of wild rhinos and the illegal trade of their horns. People who are pro-trade view rhino horn as a renewable resource because the horns gradually regrow after they’re cropped.

The idea is that rhinos would be intensively managed under farmed, or at least semi-captive, conditions, and that the animals would be sedated while their horns are harvested. Profits from the sale of horns would be invested in maintaining “viable, free-ranging” populations in “natural habitat,” as South African trade advocate Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes and others envision—although they leave the quoted terms “open to interpretation.” This overall approach falls under the label “sustainable use.”

Many rhino horn trade advocates tout the Andean vicuña—an iconic South American mammal in the camel family that’s related to llamas, alpacas, and guanacos—as an example of successful conservation through sustainable use. The vicuña has been valued for thousands of years for its soft, fine wool.

Excessive hunting for European markets drove vicuñas to the brink of extinction in the 1960s. The animals were usually shot and the fleeces sheared off their carcasses.

In the early 1970s, CITES—which regulates the global wildlife trade—and the countries where the vicuñas range in the wild took measures that included a ban on trade in their wool, putting them on a path to recovery. By the 1990s, their numbers had rebounded to more than 200,000 (most of them in Peru), and regulated legal trading in wool resumed.

Picture of vicunas

The wool of vicuñas—found in the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile—has been prized for thousands of years. Poaching of vicuñas is on the rise despite a legal trade in their wool.

Back then, ecologist Cristian Bonacic, of Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, in Santiago, was at the forefront of developing best practice guidelines for sustainable, ethical use of vicuñas.

Bonacic, a doctor of veterinary medicine, is a leading expert on South American camelids, the taxonomic group that includes vicuñas, with more than 30 years of research experience on wild populations. Because of his work with Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, vicuña management practices were aimed at reducing stress during capture, handling, and shearing.

Today, wild vicuñas number more than 340,000 in the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, but once again,poaching and illegal trading are threatening them.

Bonacic says that although inherent differences between rhinos and vicuñas mean that “sustainable” management practices of the two species would differ in detail, there are broad parallels between the two—and that lessons learned over the years with vicuñas apply to rhinos.

Speaking from his university office, Bonacic explains his recent shift away from the notion of sustainable use of wildlife, why a legal trade in vicuña wool has led to more—not less—poaching, and why he thinks a legal trade in rhino horn could be catastrophic for the species.

Tell us about the “sustainable use paradigm” and how it shaped your conservation vision more than 20 years ago.

According to the sustainable use paradigm, if wildlife can be used, it can be saved. This means that farming of wild animals and their conservation are explicitly interlinked. The idea was that if you can provide income to local communities from sustainable use of a wild animal, this will exclude illegal poaching. And indeed, the trend in the ’90s did prove this approach successful in a number of places with a number of species. In Chile, we followed this paradigm like a religion.

But the world has changed, and many indigenous communities are now much more globalized. There are many more roads, many more exchange routes, including the Internet, which allows you with one click to buy something banned in one country and not in another. The romantic view that local communities can use an animal sustainably is simply no longer feasible in the 21st century.

What was the Vicuña Convention?

Vicuñas nearly went extinct from overhunting in the wild in the 1960s. In response, CITES placed a 30-year moratorium on trade in vicuña wool. From 1960 to 1980, there was no trade, but in the 1990s we reinitiated discussion about sustainable use of vicuñas under the Vicuña Convention—a specific agreement among the countries where the vicuña naturally occurs.

The agreement was for vicuñas to be sheared alive and returned to the wild, with benefits from the sale of fiber going to local communities. This plan required maximum cooperation of government agencies, local communities, and international conservation organizations like theIUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Importantly, the trade in wool wouldn’t reopen until after vicuñas had recovered in the wild. That didn’t happen at the same pace in each of the vicuña range countries, or even within each country, with some populations remaining in jeopardy.

This is something that’s happening for rhinos and elephants and other wildlife in Africa and presents a major challenge to “sustainable use”—that is, you can’t guarantee that by starting a program of trade in a place where the animal is in abundance, you won’t drive the animal to extinction through illegal use where they’re still in danger.

While the vicuña populations in northern Chile are currently out of danger of extinction, the populations in the south are not.

Picture of vicunas getting sheared

Vicuñas were hunted to near extinction by the 1960s for their fleeces. Today, humane capture and shearing methods are widely used.

When did trade in vicuña wool begin again?

In 1997 at the CITES 10th Conference of Parties, in Zimbabwe, Peru was authorized to sell three tonnes [3.3 tons] of stockpiled vicuña fiber and develop trade in raw fleece. This marked the reopening of an international trade in wool sheared from live vicuñas.

Tell us about vicuña capture and wool harvesting.

We know from years of research on the stress physiology of vicuñas and guanacos that any human contact can be stressful for a wild animal. From the very onset, I led research and developed management practices to avoid the animals suffering while they were captured and sheared.

Between 2001 and 2005 we initiated a project—through a grant from the European Union—in the north of Argentina to institute sustainable use for the explicit purpose of protecting wild populations of vicuña. If sustainable use could provide a means of generating income in communities, and if these communities could demonstrate that their local vicuña populations had recovered, then they would be entrusted to use wild vicuñas to supply the trade in fiber.

Essentially, our model was based on the traditional chaku, in which wild animals were rounded up and sheared by Inca servants more than 600 years ago, before the Spanish arrived.

We funneled vicuñas into a series of corrals, placing hoods on them and shearing them without sedation—as wouldn’t be the case for rhinos when cropping their horns—then released them back into the wild within their same social structure. The system proved to be animal-friendly, with almost no mortality, and easy to implement by local communities on their own.

Picture of Chilean ecologist Cristian Bonacic

Chilean ecologist Cristian Bonacic—a leader in developing best practice guidelines for sustainable, ethical use of vicuñas—believes lessons learned from trade in vicuña wool are applicable to the survival of white rhinos in the wild.

Prior to our efforts, Argentina had wild-sourced vicuñas for “farms,” much smaller than Peru’s “ranches,” a pilot initiative that soon failed to prove to be socially and environmentally just. Some of Argentina’s farms were established outside the natural distribution of the vicuña, and animals were even given to people who were not members of local communities.

Ranching was Peru’s method of corralling vicuñas into large fenced plots, which can best be described as “semi-captive” conditions. This is a euphemism for saying that the animals were restricted in their movement and not really under proper care.

Our training of how to responsibly harvest wool from wild vicuñas was replicated in other communities across Argentina, and also in Bolivia and Chile. However, despite our best efforts, different conditions in different communities across vicuña range countries were instituted in such a way that we couldn’t guarantee that animals were properly managed everywhere.

Poor welfare affects the population by adding a new mortality factor, impeding future captures and shearing, and hindering the economic viability of the program.

The concern now is that given low production volumes of wool, there’s a shift from wild management—shearing of wild vicuñas as was agreed under the Vicuña Convention—to captive management schemes.

How do vicuñas fare under captive management?

Captive management, or farming, inevitably means artificial selection of certain vicuña traits, higher risk of disease transference—particularly when vicuñas and domestic animals are penned together—even lack of sufficient food because of overgrazing.

Sometimes, people put domestic llamas and alpacas in the same plots with vicuñas, creating hybrids that are not a desirable outcome of using wild animals.

There’s impact on vicuña behavior from restricting habitat use, and even higher risk of predation on vicuñas when they’re fenced and unable to flee a predator.

In other words, farming—unlike the chaku—leads to domestication, changes in health and behavior, and “genetic improvements,” none of which are good for wild vicuñas.

Most of these problems are relevant to rhino farming.

Moreover, it seems to me that even less is known about rhinos than about vicuñas. The life history cycle of a rhino is different from [that of] a vicuña. The product—horn—that would be harvested from rhinos is crucial for their reproduction and behavior. What sort of conditions does a dehorned rhino require? How is it vulnerable without its horn? How is its mate competition and communication affected by dehorning or horn cropping? Can a farmed rhino ever be released into relatively more wild or free-ranging conditions?

We know from years of research that you can’t shear vicuñas and then keep them penned, as they’ll lose their adaptive response to cold, given that their fleece and mobility are what keep them warm. Isn’t weaponry in the form of a horn part of a rhino’s adaptive response, and if so, how do they compensate for its lack?

Why has a managed legal trade in vicuña wool not led to a decrease in poaching in the wild?

The availability and affordability of vicuña wool has ultimately not worked to protect wild populations from poaching. In fact, poaching has even increased over the past ten years in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.

The opening of the vicuña wool industry led to market expansion, which we did not anticipate. Increasing demand in turn led to more poaching, not less. Our worry now is that globalization could increase demand for vicuña wool beyond natural production limits, threatening wild vicuñas yet again. Already, illegal trade in vicuña fiber is creating tensions at the borders between vicuña range countries.

Vicuña poaching is not only increasing, it’s also becoming more dangerous. In Chile, there are recent incidents of park rangers being killed by vicuña poachers. We’ve never had such a situation before. Chilean rangers don’t use guns—they never had to.

The trade in vicuña wool also led to “stakeholder dominance,” with Italian and Argentinean traders controlling the market. This means that benefits to traders are much greater than those enjoyed by local people of the Andean communities who source and supply the raw product. This gives communities less incentive to protect wild vicuñas.

Furthermore, as vicuñas are highly territorial, this affects how they distribute themselves across the landscape, which can incite poaching in one community’s area by members of another community. This raises the complex issue of ownership.

Finally, the product—vicuña wool—is difficult to distinguish from the wool of guanacos and alpacas, which can be the same color as vicuña [wool]. We suspect that illegal trade is made possible by shipping vicuña wool out under the label of baby alpaca or baby llama wool. There’s no easy way to verify the authenticity—or legality—of the product, as would also be the case for rhino horn, especially once it’s ground up into powder.

Can you discuss other relevant experiences in Chile?

We shouldn’t forget the example of the chinchilla, which is endemic to Chile. At the beginning of the past century, when chinchillas were in decline because of overuse for their pelts, someone took several pairs to North America and developed an entire new breed in captivity. Farming did not stimulate care for wild chinchillas, nor did it help avert their current near-extinction in the wild.

How can Chile’s experience with vicuñas be a cautionary tale for South Africa?

There are a lot fewer wild rhinos than there were wild vicuñas at the start of the trade in their wool. If there’s increased rhino poaching following trade legalization—even for a brief period and at a relatively low level compared with the present—this could be catastrophic for rhinos.

How would the profits of rhino horn trade be transferred to wild population recovery, ecosystem conservation, and local communities? How can responsible use of funds be guaranteed, given recent news ofmisappropriation of money gained from South Africa’s elephant ivory sale in 2008?

What are the social benefits of using rhino horn as compared to vicuña wool? Would the world be promoting medical fraud by supporting rhino horn trade and usage?

Moreover, is it ethically acceptable to breed animals for the sole use of their horns for some so-called medicinal purpose? Societies should be prepared to ask themselves whether fashion and folk medicine can be allowed to drive species like vicuña and rhino to what could be their extinction in the wild in the 21st century.

Rhinos have a tremendous potential as a source of income if they’re retained in the wild because of their huge tourist appeal. Rhinos attract far more ecotourism than vicuñas do, and are likely just behind elephants in that appeal.

I strongly believe that farming rhinos for horn production will drive the last specimens of a unique species into a scenario where they’ll become more tame and less able to be part of the African ecosystem.

When you drive a magnificent animal away from its ecological relationships, you’re taking away the whole meaning of wildlife conservation.

Científicos chilenos descubren nueva especie de murciélago para el país en la Pampa del Tamarugal

Fuente: y

Los murciélagos, aquellos pequeños mamíferos voladores asociados a vampiros o enfermedades, representan un 25% de los mamíferos terrestres del mundo y viven en una gran diversidad de hábitats en todos los continentes con excepción de los polos. En Chile existen 13 especies de murciélagos registradas, de las cuales la mayoría son insectívoros y habitan la zona centro-norte del país.

Un nuevo estudio realizado en la Reserva Nacional Pampa del Tamarugal, Región de Tarapacá, por Gonzalo Ossa y Cristian Bonacic del Laboratorio Fauna Australis, Universidad Católica de Chile, y Rubén Barquez de la Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, Argentina, con el financiamiento del SAG Tarapacá, ha informado acerca de la presencia de una nueva especie de murciélago para el país, el murciélago orejón de Thomas (Histiotus laephotis), además de extender hacia el norte la distribución de otra especie ya conocida, el murciélago orejudo chico (Histiotus montanus).

Gonzalo Ossa, autor principal de este estudio, nos contó acerca de este nuevo descubrimiento y de cómo es la experiencia de trabajar con estos animales.

¿Cómo es trabajar en terreno estudiando murciélagos?

chalo 01No es fácil y posiblemente esa es la gran razón del porqué en Chile han sido tan poco estudiados. Los terrenos son de noche y dependiendo del lugar, uno se somete a diferentes riesgos como caídas, asaltos, frío, etc. Por otro lado, capturar murciélagos es sumamente difícil, puesto que al utilizar la ecolocación para navegar y cazar, los murciélagos son capaces de detectar las redes y evadirlas perfectamente, muchas especies son casi imposibles de capturar porque vuelan en altura, o porque tienen un sistema de detección muy preciso. Sin embargo a mí me entretiene, es siempre un desafío. El hecho de que hayan sido tan poco estudiados en Chile me mantiene siempre con la esperanza de encontrar alguna especie nueva o profundizar los conocimientos sobre las ya existentes. Además hay que lidiar con su capacidad de detectar las redes y para ello ser estratégico en la colocación de estas. ¡Hay que pillarlos desprevenidos!No es fácil y posiblemente esa es la gran razón del porqué en Chile han sido tan poco estudiados. Los terrenos son de noche y dependiendo del lugar, uno se somete a diferentes riesgos como caídas, asaltos, frío, etc. Por otro lado, capturar murciélagos es sumamente difícil, puesto que al utilizar la ecolocación para navegar y cazar, los murciélagos son capaces de detectar las redes y evadirlas perfectamente, muchas especies son casi imposibles de capturar porque vuelan en altura, o porque tienen un sistema de detección muy preciso.

¿Qué tipos de murciélagos viven en Chile y cuál es su importancia?

Actualmente en Chile tenemos 13 especies de murciélagos, lo cual es muy poco si pensamos que en el mundo se han descrito más de 1300 especies de murciélagos a la fecha.

Los murciélagos chilenos pertenecen al suborden Microchiroptera y se distribuyen a lo largo de todo el país. Son murciélagos en general de pequeño tamaño y pertenecen a cuatro familias distintas (Vespertilionidae, Molossidae, Furipteridae y Phyllostomidae). La mayor diversidad se encuentra en el norte y disminuye hacia el sur, sin embargo hay registros hasta isla Navarino.

De las 13 especies, 11 son insectívoras, por lo que son importantes para las actividades agrícolas como controladores de plagas. Una especie (Desmodus rotundus) es hematófaga, vive en la costa de Coquimbo al norte y se alimenta principalmente de la sangre de lobos marinos, y otra especie (Platalina genovensium) es nectarívora, se alimenta del polen de algunos cactus en el extremo norte de Chile.

Si bien los murciélagos pueden ser portadores del virus de la rabia, personalmente creo que no representan un riesgo para la salud humana, puesto que es bastante difícil llegar a tener contacto con ellos. El riesgo real pasa por el contacto que podamos tener nosotros con otros animales, como perros, que han tenido contacto previo con murciélagos infectados, o por desconocimiento al tomar con la mano algún murciélago muerto.

Los murciélagos en general son muy importantes para el equilibrio de los ecosistemas en todo el mundo, puesto que se han diversificado de tal manera que cumplen con casi la totalidad de los roles ecológicos. Existen especies polinizadoras de plantas; especies que comen frutos y luego con sus heces participan de manera fundamental en la regeneración de los bosques tropicales; especies insectívoras que han sido valoradas en miles de dólares en EEUU como beneficio para la agricultura; especies carnívoras que controlan a otras especies, entre otras.

La nueva especie registrada para el país existe en los países vecinos ¿Es común la migración para estos animales? ¿Qué podría haberlos llevado a migrar a la Pampa del Tamarugal?

El artículo habla sobre Histiotus laephotis, y poco se sabe sobre los movimientos de los murciélagos de este género, que probablemente realizan pequeñas migraciones buscando alimento y/o condiciones climáticas favorables. En este sentido, la RN Pampa del Tamarugal representa un lugar interesante para los murciélagos porque hay árboles viejos que sirven como refugio y hay bastantes insectos que les sirven de alimento. Por otro lado la RN Pampa del Tamarugal es un oasis dentro de un paisaje extremadamente árido, que no proporciona buenas condiciones para la sobrevivencia de los murciélagos.Existen varias especies migratorias de murciélagos. En Chile contamos con tres especies que son potencialmente grandes migradoras debido a su morfología, aunque no hay estudios a nivel nacional (Tadarida brasiliensis, Lasiurus varius y Lasiurus cinereus).

El artículo habla también de otra especie presente en el país, pero que había sido registrada hasta Calama ¿Por qué no había sido observada antes en la zona?

Histiotus montanus es una especie ampliamente distribuida en Sudamérica, a lo largo de la cordillera de Los Andes. Su ausencia en la región de Tarapacá puede deberse tanto a la ausencia de estudios previos en la zona, como también puede que haya llegado buscando mejores condiciones de hábitat. Otro punto importante respecto a esta especie, es que en Chile aún se sigue considerando como sinónimo de Histiotus magellanicus, lo cual ha complicado un poco los estudios y creado confusión en cuanto a sus hábitos y distribución.

¿Qué son las llamadas de ecolocación? ¿Cuánto se sabe de ecolocación en murciélagos chilenos?

La ecolocación es la capacidad de los murciélagos de “ver con los oídos” utilizando pulsos de alta frecuencia. Estos pulsos rebotan con diferentes objetos en el ambiente y generan ecos los cuales los murciélagos pueden captar e interpretar. Las llamadas de ecolocación son secuencias de pulsos o gritos que emiten los murciélagos, y con cada pulso obtienen información. Yo siempre lo comparo a caminar abriendo y cerrando los ojos…

Las llamadas son específicas para cada especie, sin embargo poseen variaciones de acuerdo al ambiente donde los murciélagos se están moviendo. Así, un murciélago que vuela en un bosque denso necesita emitir pulsos muy seguido – porque hay muchos obstáculos –, estas llamadas no llegan muy lejos porque los obstáculos están lejos y además estos pulsos recopilan muchísima información. Por otro lado, un murciélago que vuela alto, sobre el dosel va a emitir pulsos más separados, que llegan más lejos – porque no hay muchos obstáculos en el horizonte – y van a ser pulsos que colectan poca información.

El año 2008 hice mi tesis de pregrado de agronomía en el Laboratorio Fauna Australis sobre la ecolocación de los murciélagos y ese trabajo fue la primera identificación de las llamadas de ecolocación de algunas especies de la región Mediterránea de Chile Central y una especie Myotis chiloensis de la región de La Araucanía. Desde ese momento ha comenzado un pequeño boom en este tema, puesto que permite estudiar los murciélagos de una manera menos invasiva y con buenos resultados.

¿Cuál es la importancia de estas especies para el ecosistema de la Reserva?

Los murciélagos que habitan la RN Pampa del Tamarugal son todos insectívoros, por lo que su rol principal es el control de insectos. A mi parecer cumplen una función sumamente importante puesto que en la Reserva se observan varios árboles que han sido atacados por polillas y escarabajos de la madera. No tengo conocimiento de estudios que indiquen que esto sea un problema importante, pero si lo fuera, los murciélagos serían un gran aliado para los Tamarugos.

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¿Cuáles son sus planes futuros como equipo? ¿Continuarán estudiando estas especies?

Hoy en Chile hay varios proyectos en desarrollo sobre murciélagos. Personalmente encuentro muy interesante estudiar de manera detallada los impactos que provocan los parques eólicos sobre los murciélagos a nivel poblacional y como generar medidas de mitigación de estos impactos. Por otro lado el estudio de las migraciones de diferentes especies es fundamental para establecer rutas y definir sitios importantes de descanso y alimentación.

Específicamente en Pampa del Tamarugal estamos trabajando para que sea declarada como un Área de Importancia para los Murciélagos (AICOM) lo cual es una iniciativa de la Red Latinoamericana para la Conservación de los Murciélagos (RELCOM) lo cual permitiría conseguir fondos para realizar más investigación y educación ambiental en la reserva y la región. Un paso importante a seguir es volver a visitar la Reserva para capturar esta especie y depositar un ejemplar en algún Museo de Historia Natural, para que haya un registro físico que permita estudiarlo de manera más detallada.

Es importante lograr acercar a la población a este grupo de especies y terminar de generar “mala fama”. En este sentido la realización de cursos informativos y charlas es fundamental.

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