Tag: Ciudad de Piedra

Bolivia’s Andean Cat Power Couple

When a couple chooses to put cat prints on their wedding bands, you know they mean business, La Paz, Bolivia
When a couple chooses to put cat prints on their wedding bands, you know they mean business, La Paz, Bolivia

In the last blog post I kept mentioning “we” when talking about our journey to Andean Cat habitat. The simple reason: I was not alone. In fact, I was joined by what I think of as the Andean Cat power couple of Bolivia. Meet Juan Carlos Huaranca Ariste and Alejandra Rocio Torrez Tarqui.

Alejandra Rocio Torrez Tarqui and Juan Carlos Huaranca Ariste in the Altiplano, western Bolivia
Alejandra Rocio Torrez Tarqui and Juan Carlos Huaranca Ariste in the Altiplano, western Bolivia

As a pair they cover every topic in regards to Andean Cat conservation. Juan Carlos is the principal Bolivian biologist conducting research on the wild cat. His main focus has been determining areas in which the Andean Cat has high densities and population numbers within the country. He talks to local people and deploys camera traps in the field. He has been doing so since 2004. More recently, he has also started to take on undergraduate students, advising them on their own Andean Cat studies. With this baseline ecological data, proper conservation actions can be drawn up for the species. Juan Carlos has been and still is the expert at acquiring that data in Bolivia.

Juan Carlos Huaranca Ariste checking camera trap for Andean Cats. Ciudad de Pedra, western Bolivia
Juan Carlos Huaranca Ariste checking camera trap for Andean Cats. Ciudad de Pedra, western Bolivia
Its common for Juan Carlos to stop and to speak to locals about the Andean Cat!
Its common for Juan Carlos to stop and to speak to locals about the Andean Cat!
Juan Carlos surveying valley, western Bolivia
Juan Carlos surveying valley, western Bolivia

Alejandras focuses most of her attention on environmental education and outreach programs for the Andean Cat. She has been leading school workshops and activities in the country since 2008. Having had the honor of spending a few weeks with her, its obvious her wheels are constantly turning as she comes up with additional lesson plans, activities, or ideas that will inspire the children she teaches to care about the Andean Mountain Cat. Pretty awesome!

No classroom is too small for Alejandra Rocio Torrez Tarqui!
No class size is too small for Alejandra Rocio Torrez Tarqui!
Alejandra helps a student with a quiz about Andean Cats, western Bolivia.
Alejandra helps a student with a quiz about Andean Cats, western Bolivia.
Alejandra points out the distinct stripes of the Andean Cat's tail, western Bolivia.
Alejandra points out the distinct stripes of the Andean Cat’s tail, western Bolivia.

Both Alejandra and Juan Carlos’s work is incredibly crucial to the long term survival of the Andean Cat in Bolivia. Juan Carlos’s research is determining where the species still has a stronghold in the country. This information provides the necessary data to create new protected areas for the cat. Alejandra’s education programs shift the traditional thinking of the local people that the Andean Cat is a threat to their livestock. Even though they can be considered the best in the country at doing these jobs, they are not able to fulfill these roles full-time since the Andean Cat Alliance is simply not in a financial position to maintain them in that capacity. Let’s donate to the Andean Cat Alliance and help the Andean Cat by supporting Juan Carlos’ and Alejandra’s projects.

Bolivian Altiplano: Region of the Andean Cat

Altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia
Altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia

The Altiplano, or high altitude plateau, is a special place. Stretching from northern Argentina to central Peru, it is the second highest plain in the world (after Tibet), with an average of over 12,000 feet. La Paz, the captial city of Bolivia which I introduced in the last blog post, lies within the Altiplano, but to find the cats we needed to head out of the city and to higher elevations.  We made our way southwest towards where Bolivia borders Chile and Peru. Our final destination was Ciudad de Piedra (stone city) at the ‘comfortable’ altitude of 4000 meters or slightly more than 13,000 feet.

The Altiplano is a region, not a habitat, so when you travel through it you encounter different plant communities and types of rock formations. At first came the gently rolling Puna grasslands as we slowly climbed in altitude.

Puna grassland in the Altiplano, western Bolivia
Storm clouds over Puna grassland in the Altiplano, western Bolivia

Though beautiful, we had to move on as the Andean Cats are not primarily found in these grass communities. The soil became harder and the grasses less frequent.

Altiplano, western Bolivia
Altiplano, western Bolivia

Still, we moved on. We then took a turn off the main dirt road to slowly crawl up this beautiful river valley. We were now in Andean Cat habitat. The cat prefers steep rocky areas in which its favorite prey, the Southern Viscacha (Lagidium viscacia) — future blog post to come — lives. After settling into camp life, we took a stroll up along the river. With every step, the beauty of the place became more apparent.

River flowing through valley in altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia
River flowing through valley in altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia

In the afternoon, we decided to scale one of the cliffs to get a better vantage point. Reaching the top was difficult work as every step is challenging, oxygen is sparse at this altitude (aka the air is thin!). Once we did though, we were once again reminded why its called a plain. This labyrinth of rocks was lying in front of us, seemingly creating this endless plateau. It was a sight to behold.

Altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia
Altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia

The reality of course is that this plain is continuously dissected by different sized canyons and making one’s way through them is no easy task, especially when the entrance and exit to the canyons are hard to find. The views in them though, are especially stunning.

Grasses in canyon in Altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia
Grasses in canyon in Altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia
Cacti in canyon in the Altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia
Cacti in canyon in the Altiplano, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia

This is no easy place to live, and in some way the Andean Cat has probably been able to hold on because not many people choose to settle in this harsh environment. I felt incredibly privileged to share its space, even with all its challenges.