Feline Conservation Federation

FCF Awards Grant for Guigna Conservation

March 2011 - This is a project update on Maximiliano A. Sepulveda’s study of habitat use and movements using trap cameras. An examination of human attitudes and differences before and after implementation of an educational program, and mitigating conservation activities to diminish cat-human conflict in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve in Chile, was supported with a $1,500 grant from the FCF Conservation Grants Fund.

Update on the Implementation of a long-term conservation program in the guigna (Leopardus guigna) in the Valdivian Temperate Forest.
Maximiliano Sepulveda
    The kodkod or guigna (Leopardus guigna) is one of the smallest and most rare wild cats in South America. The geographic range of guigna is one of the most restricted distribution ranges of wild felids, and is located in the temperate Valdivian rainforest of south-central Chile and a small part of Argentina. This particular habitat is under different human pressures as exotic plantations (pines and eucalyptus), livestock pastures, and also the presence of human settlementsare in conflict with the guigna. Of particular concern is this cat’s behavior of preying upon poultry (main protein source for local farmers).
    To conserve this species, it is necessary to implement an adequate conservation plan in a human dominated landscape that represents a significant area of its distribution. Therefore, the present project works to establish a long-term conservation program of the species, and the main goals are to define conservation activities that promote viable populations of the cat in the Valdivian Temperate Forest.
    The project is conducted in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve and surrounding localities. The Valdivian Coastal Reserve (VCR) is the largest protected area located in the Coastal Range of Chile (39º52'S, 73º25'W). This area, administered by The Nature Conservancy, has been protected since 2003, and encompasses almost 13% of the remaining forest in the Chilean Coastal Range. The coastal range of Chile is the most critical area for the conservation of biodiversity in temperate South America. The main land cover types inside the reserve are eucalyptus plantations (without any kind of forest management), old-growth forest, and second growth forest. Three local communities are located in the northern margins of the reserve (Huiro, Chaihuin and Cadillal). All together, the study area offers adequate conditions to implement a long-term conservation program for the guigna to serve as a model to other areas.
    The project uses techniques such as trap cameras and radio telemetry to determine the human presence and habitat effects in the cat’s ecology. To date we have data from 120 trap camera locations monitored during 16 days each. A total planned 320 trap cameras will be accomplished during the next months. Preliminary data shows that differences between native forest and exotic eucalypt plantations are not marked, but understory vegetation density can be a variable that affects the presence of guigna.
    Previously from FCF’s support, we already had two guignas radio collared, and now with the FCF support we have increased to five guignas being radio monitored. Preliminary data shows similar results with trap cameras, observing non-preference between native forest and unmanaged eucalypt plantations. If this habitat use pattern is corroborated with complete data, this could generate an optimistic scenario in the guigna’s conservation in other areas with exotic eucalypt plantations, using areas of non-managed plantations to promote feline habitats. Future data collection is still needed. In relation to home range size, we still need more collared cats to make an adequate estimate, but the preliminary data value is 4.4±0.42 Km2.
    We are also establishing a baseline of human perceptions and attitudes about the guigna, and also quantifying the poultry losses using questionnaires. At present, we have almost finished data collection from all human communities in the study area, and data analysis is in process. Preliminary data from 85 questionnaires shows that ten percent of the people are of the opinion that guigna are the most important cause of poultry losses. A serious human-cat conflict was determined, as guignas are commonly killed in response to chickens being attacked by this cat.
    Altogether, this information will serve to generate practical conservation activities which will be implemented in the study area, and will allow us to measure how effective we are in achieving the goal of conserving this threatened wild cat.