The Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) is the most threatened felid in the Americas. With an estimated population of less than 1,500 adult individuals, it has been listed as Endangered by the IUCN. This very small number of cats is scattered in fragmented populations living along the Andes, from central Argentina, through Bolivia and Chile to central Peru, mostly in regions at over 4,000 m of altitudes. Hunting and habitat modification by local people are among the major threats to the survival of Andean cats. Although the Andean cat is typically not considered a major source of livestock depredation, local people suffer from predation by pumas (Puma concolor) and culpeos (Lycalopex culpaeus). Because local communities mostly rely on livestock (lamas, alpacas, and sheep) as source of food and economic incomes, their perceptions of carnivores in general are largely negative and they persecute and kill any carnivore in retaliation. To mitigate this conflict, we decided to increase local people participation in conservation and change their perception of the Andean cat through the implementation of fair-trade commerce of handicrafts inspired on the Andean cat.
We aim to adopt craftsmanship as a creative tool and a livelihood initiative, enabling the Andean Cat Alliance (Alianza Gato Andino – AGA) to support wildlife conservation – particularly of the Andean cat – through increased engagement of local people while simultaneously reinforcing the cultural identity of the High Andes communities, improving their livelihoods and empowering women.
We provide training to local artisans to improve the quality of their handicrafts and develop new products, based on traditional practices, using natural raw materials from their own livestock and incorporating the image of the Andean cat. Then we train and support them in the commercialization of those new products, provide promotional material and work collaboratively to create a network of sale points, including online sites and shops in nearby cities and country capitals. Simultaneously, artisans will be exposed to wildlife conservation awareness activities aiming to change per attitudes towards carnivores and transform them into ambassadors of the Andean cat conservation within their communities and with the buyers of their products.
CONDITIONS OF SUCCESS
The local communities must be ready to change their customs and embrace more sustainable development models.
Funding is required until the incomes generated by the sales of handicrafts make the project self-sustainable.
The training provided should increase local people's skills as artisans but also build their capacity of managing small businesses.