Vicuña Use by Andean Communities: A Risk or an Opportunity?

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Date
2004
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"Vicuña use by Andean communities is an interesting model that typifies many features of international conservation policy and community management. The rationale for vicuña use is that as well as achieving international conservation objectives, it can enhance the economic well-being of native people in the Andean highlands and contribute to compensate the cost of conservation. In this study, vicuña management in Bolivia and Argentina provide two pertinent scenarios to assess the potential impact in achieving the twin objectives of conservation and local development set up in policies. "Vicuñas, <i>Vicugna vicugna </i>are wild South American camelids that live in high Andean region called Puna and Altiplano of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Perú. Their fleece has one of the finest fibres in the world, with current market prizes of about $USD 500 per kg. They have long been hunted to obtain the fibre, resulting in near extinction by the 1960s. Strict conservation regulations, through the Vicuña Convention and the ratification of the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Plants and Animals (CITES) successfully helped in halting a decline to near-extinction, and rebuilding populations. The global programme of conservation was so successful that it resulted in a progressive shift in international policy from strict preservation (Appendix I of CITES) to sustainable use (Appendix II of CITES) allowing trade in fibre obtained from live-shorn target populations. "Each Andean country has developed a different plan for vicuña management. Two extreme cases are the systems developed in Bolivia and Argentina. Bolivia supports only community-based management of wild vicuña. Animals are captured, shorn and released again into the wild with the participation of local communities. Infrastructure and technical assistance is provided by the State. On the other hand, Argentina promotes private management of vicuña in captivity in corrals by only a few local producers. Most of the investment is done by the local producers, who get technical assistance from a State run agricultural organization (INTA). "Our results suggest that until now, neither of the two systems has achieved the conservation nor local development goals. Local peoples' negative attitude towards vicuñas has not been changed because of being involved in the projects. The immediate reasons for this are because management in captivity in Argentina does not provide an incentive towards conservation of vicuñas outside corrals, and the economic benefits, if any, are negligible. The lack of commercialisation of vicuña fibre in Bolivia does not provide incentives for conservation for local people either. Beyond these factors, privatisation in Argentina does not seem to have the capacity or scope to either conserve wild vicuña populations outside corrals, or to enhance local poor people's livelihoods. Instead, community management in Bolivia has the scope or potential to meet both objectives. However, past experiences from community management of vicuña in Peru suggest that the distribution of benefits among the communities will be a key factor in determining the success of the Bolivian experience."
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IASC, common pool resources, wildlife, community participation, livestock, conservation, incentives
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