I came to the Araucaria region of Chile in order to study the guiña. The guiña may be the smallest wildcat in the Americas but within the Chilean temperate rainforests it has a big reputation as a predator of domestic poultry making it less than popular amongst the regions campesino farmers. Tragically its reputation has lead to persecution. My role was to look at how guiña and farmers could be reconciled in the most efficient and effective way. How could conservationist best remove the dramatically overinflated reputation of the cat as a poultry pest, How could its role in controlling rodents that spread Hantavirus be promoted. Ultimately this was a study that would look at an issue central to many incidences of human - wildlife conflict, how can the perceived damage a species does be overcome in the mind of rural livestock owners whose principal concerns are about making ends meet. Whilst in Chile I also taught groups within a local community how to use video cameras and with my facilitation they made films about their relationships with the local environment. The results were surprising and highlighted just how important local knowledge is when appraising an areas conservation challenges. You can read the report on the study here. 10% from the sale of all prints taken in Chile will go towards helping the Kodkod research centre continue its work on facilitating environmental conservation within the Araucaria region of Chile.
This is a photo of my garden in Chile. Impressive huh. Actually to say that it was my garden is something of an exaggeration, the garden belonged to delightful little restaurant named the Kodkod (an alternative name for the species of cat I was in Chile to study). As well as being a restaurant Kodkod is the beating heart of a network of conservationists working within the Araucaria region of Chile and beyond. It acts as a meeting place, carries out education activities, supports local green initiatives and provides visiting researchers with a place to carry out their research. for me it was home for over four months and during that time the garden was a source of food as well as a place to get away from the computer screen and reconnect to the living earth. I made some great friends in Chile. Marcela and Felipe started out as research assistants for my work and became instrumental to its success. I helped out Tommy with his bird ringing and whilst I might not have been so important to him we certainly had a lot of fun together whilst easing hummingbirds and woodpeckers out of the mist nets. The mountains around Kodkod were a constant source of wonder and featured some fantastic hiking, crystal clear lakes, tumbling rivers, lush temperate rainforest, some hotpools which just called out for midnight bathing. A scattering of enormous volcanoes just added to the splendour of the area.
The summit of El Cañi
The El Cañi private reserve is a community owned and protected mountain behind the Kodkod centre. Home to guiña, Darwins frog and spectacular Araucaria trees the reserve is testament to what a group of determined people can achieve in terms of biodiversity protection.
Tastes like chicken?
'Arañas pollitos,' or 'little chicken spiders' are commonly seen near the summit of El Cañi. Neither little nor behaving much like chickens a local legend has it their name comes from the fact that when roasted they taste like chicken
The amount of time that I had at my disposal in Chile meant I had opportunities to engage with local wildlife to a level that I often find hard when working on studies with an anthropogenic focus. The owl in the picture to the left is a concon or Rufous-legged owl(Strix rufipes). This individual was, found before I arrived, with its wing impailed on a barbed wire fence. After 6 weeks of treatment and care I was lucky to help Felipe and Marcela re-release the owl back into the wild. We chose a Buddhist monastery close to where the owl had first been found as the ideal site and were rewarded as the owl chose not to disappear into the forest but instead simply watched us from a low branch before closing its pink eyelids and falling asleep. As well as owls there was a whole host of opportunities to get hands on with the local bird life through the mist netting work I did with Tommy and rescuing the occasional lost hummingbird from within our cabin. there was plenty of invertebrate life too. I spent the first hour of my first hike into the hills wondering who had also stomped the same trail whilst shedding iridescent false nails on the trail. it was only when I saw a 'false nail' running across the path that I realised I had in fact been looking at the wing casings of some truly remarkable beetles. The wildlife highlight of my time in and around Pucone was finding a Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma darwinii) in the El Cañi reserve. Typically it was one of only a few walks where I didn't have my camera with me...
Volcan Villarrica from Huerquehue National Park
Huerquehue National Park
Sunset from Cerro San Sebastián
From the sumimit of Cerro San Sebastián in Huerquehue National Park its possible to see eight volcanoes. Departing late we arrived to witness a once in a lifetime sunset...and then had an 8 hour walk home in the dark.
Capturing the moment
Pitio (Colaptes pitius)
The Valdivian temperate rain forest is a unique ecosystem and though I didn't see a guiña during my trip I was treated to a great abundance of life and that unmistakable feeling of having lived in a very special place for a short while.
Study of a frog
Villarica glows at night
Volcan villarica was a constant presence during my time in Pucon and during a BBQ at Marcela and Felipe's house it put on a fireworks display with a difference. As ice near the summit melts the steam reflects the glow from the lava lake nestled within the crater. On returning to the UK I moved to Cambridge and got back in touch with a long lost friend I had not seen since I was 7. After 19 years you can imagine my surprise to find that as part of his PhD he would be studying this same volcano