In the Argentinian Patagonia, ranchers persecute pumas and other natural predators, even in protected areas, exposing the corpses of those they have killed by hanging them on the barbed wire fences of ranches in places of high public exposure, almost as an act of sadism in the eyes of any outside visitor. Such fox and puma carcasses are objects of prestige for some farmers in southern Argentina.
Although Argentina’s national legislation states that all citizens must protect wildlife, it also gives provinces autonomy to regulate these populations, and many have created provincial regulations for the “control of predatory species of livestock”, where it is established that it is the owners of the fields who must control “pest” species (such as the cases of foxes and pumas who are unfairly labelled as such for simply trying to survive in their natural territory).
Traditionally, this role of puma controllers was played by the “leoneros”(lion killers), who still exist, and who use dogs to track the pumas and kill them. Either they set traps in areas where the dogs detect the cougar scent, or they shoot them if they find them.
In Chubut’s protected areas, there are more and more traps, and other forms of persecution of pumas, foxes and wildcats have increased. Many of the protected areas do not implement management plans or mitigation efforts that address this problem. In the Peninsula Valdés Natural Protected Area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve, natural predators continue to be persecuted.
In some places, the use of guard dogs, trained not to corral and kill but to protect sheeps through deterrence procedures is an alternative to lethal control. But, unfortunately, killing pumas is the most chosen option by most ranchers and herders, who still consider “leoneros” as indispensable professionals.