The Guide of the Marshes

Beth Wald  /  3 Min Read  /  Culture

Returning endangered species to the wetlands of Argentina is good for humans, too.

In the past, most young people from in and around the Iberá wetlands in Argentina, had to leave their communities to look for work in town, or even farther afield, in the city of Corrientes. Wildlife tourism in the park is changing this. “I am really proud because I can stay in my homeland,” says Federico Fernandez, a guide.

From the get-go, the goal has been to rehabilitate the entire ecosystem. The challenge, in the Iberá wetlands province of Corrientes, Argentina, as in too many regions today, is that several species there have been driven extinct. To have a fully functioning ecosystem, animals and birds needed to be re-introduced. And so, beginning in 2012, a dedicated team of wildlife biologists, ecologists and volunteers from Rewilding Argentina, a partner of Tompkins Conservation, set to work importing missing critters and even re-educating some of them on how to live on their own.

As cofounder Kristine Tompkins notes in her recent TED Talk, the team has met with remarkable success. They’ve managed to bring back giant anteaters, pampas deer, peccaries, the bare-faced curassow, the red-legged seriema, and red- and green-winged macaws. (On June 28, 2020, five juvenile macaws flew the coop to live in the wilds of Iberá, a major benchmark.) They are close to re-introducing giant river otters. Next, though, comes an even more complicated test: restoring the area’s keystone predator, the jaguar, missing in action from Iberá for 70 years.

Last time we checked in on the program, Tania, the first jaguar born in the region in decades, had had her cubs. Well, she turned out to be a great mom, and one of her cubs may soon follow the example of juvenile that was released this spring into a much wider pen (to see if she could hunt for herself).

New Mexico-based photographer Beth Wald made sure not to miss this potentially historic step. She also found a somewhat overlooked story in the process—how the local embrace of the returning “yaguaraté,” the Guarani word that gave us “jaguar,” is providing a way for some villagers there to stay on the land and practice the old ways of living in the marshes. People have a place in restored ecosystems, too.

Follow and support Rewilding Argentina [en Español] and Tompkins Conservation.

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