Members’ Voices: Bibiana Vilá - VICAM


I have dedicated my entire professional life to vicuñas (Vicugna vicugna): wild South American camelids that roam the Andes Mountains. I am a biologist working in Argentina to conserve these animals using a combination of modern science and indigenous knowledge.

Though I was born at sea level, I have developed my scientific career in the arid landscape of the Andean Plateau at 4 000 metres. Despite being a scientist, the mountains still exert their magic on me. I objectively study ecological data while simultaneously feeling the presence of the apus - the spirits of the mountains in Andean mythology. Every moment spent in the altiplano, watching the births of vicuñas and observing them in the wild, is a blessing.  

The Andean altiplano ecosystem supports Andean pastoralism, one of the most long-lived, culturally distinct socioecological systems in the world. The well-being of the ecosystem is critical for the survival of rural indigenous communities of the Andean highlands.

However, climate change and human mismanagement of resources are an ongoing threat to the ecosystem, leading to desertification, soil erosion and biodiversity loss. The pastoral world is at very serious risk; there is little attention paid to the biodiversity and livestock of high altitude pastoral communities in conservation agendas.

Since 2006, VICAM: Vicuñas, Camelids and Environment has been working with Argentinean Altiplano Andean communities to help them to conserve their environment, especially in relation to vicuñas. Our work revolves around three key pillars: environmental education and conservation policies, sustainable economic development by sustainable wild vicuñas management, and conservation of traditional and cultural management.

Our team developed the first wild vicuñas conservation and management project (under a scientific and precautionary framework) in Argentina. This project was renowned as a successful case of sustainability and has received several recognitions and has been featured in publications. In 2012, CONICET, the national research council of Argentina, supported VICAM’s work with the publication "La vicuña: Manual para su conservacion y uso sustenable". This document has become the foundation of the capture techniques used by most institutions carrying out this management in Argentina.

VICAM has innovated approaches to allow the regular capture, shearing and release of vicuñas. This practice generates income for local communities and provides incentive to conserve the animals. The VICAM team is committed to capacity building and knowledge sharing. We have worked with numerous communities on different aspects of the ecology and management of wild camelids, in ethnobiology of caravans of llamas, and in environmental education.

VICAM has been a Mountain Partnership member since 2009. Belonging to the global network allows us to showcase our initiatives through initiatives like Peak to Peak, and allows us to understand the challenges we have in common with mountain regions around the world. In 2017, I was happy to participate in the Mountain Partnership IPROMO programme, a wonderful immersion in European mountain life. Despite being distant, all of us living and working in the mountains face similar issues that unite us.

News from Bibiana Vilá - VICAM

Thumbnail photo from Yanina Arzamendia (VICAM)

Other photo from Silvina Enrietti

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