Post de Experiment (8): The guanaco as a flagship species?

Este post apareció originalmente en el sitio de crowdfunding Experiment, 13 November 2013.  Para un post relacionado en español, ve acá.

This week I have been meeting with Adrien Lindon, who as I mentioned before did his MSc dissertation on Chilean attitudes to guanaco reintroductions. We were planning how to write up his dissertation as a paper. 
Adrien interviewed key stakeholders in Chile and circulated a survey online, in which he asked people to assess their landscape preferences and to evaluate different types of arguments for guanaco reintroduction. The survey targeted middle class, educated urban Chileans, the group likely to have most direct and indirect power over conservation policy in Chile.

He found that
–the central Chilean landscape is the least appreciated within Chile
–espinal is seen as unproductive and lacking wild species
–the espino is the typical plant of espinal, and no animal is thought of as typical
–guanacos are perceived to be wild, gentle, rare, and threatened
–espinal landscape with guanacos in it is seen as more interesting to visit
–respondents preferred ethical rather than utilitarian arguments for guanaco reintroduction in espinals.

Above, one of the techniques used in Adrien’s survey. Interestingly, although landscape preferences are often studied with paired photographs, adding animals to the images to see how this changes landscape preferences seems to be a novel approach! (Lindon & Root-Bernstein in prep.)

We think these findings are interesting because they show that urban, middle class people in Chile are interested in seeing guanacos in espinals based on the argument that it is part of their original natural habitat, and it is our human responsibility to return them to it. This moral argument seems to fit in with the nostalgic attitude that Chileans often adopt when talking about why they like certain species or places in central Chile (Root-Bernstien & Armesto 2013). We also think that the guanaco could become a charismatic flagship species to promote the espinal habitat and its flora and fauna. People like guanacos, and they like guanacos in espinals, so the association of guanacos with this under- appreciated habitat might help to raise its profile within Chile. 

The big remaining question is whether farmers and landowners are more interested in the utilitarian arguments about using guanacos as a restoration tool to improve livestock production. We hope to find this out as the project goes forward.

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