Juan Carlos Huaranca hears the clatter of rocks slipping beneath his hiking boots as he ascends the Bolivian Andes in Sajama National Park. The air is thin and frigid, the light vivid and bright. Juan is searching for the most advantageous spot to set camera traps in the hope of capturing a photo of the elusive “ghost of the Andes,” the Andean cat. The Andean cat’s range reaches heights of up to 12,000 feet and stretches from northernmost Peru to the southern tip of Argentina. Its relatively small size, choice terrain, and nocturnal nature make it one of the most rarely-sighted cats.
For over ten years, Juan has been an active member of the Andean Cat Alliance (AGA) and has periodically worked in Andean cat conservation since 2004. With full support from AGA, Juan was nominated by Andrés J. Novaro (Whitley Award winner and WCS Argentina Senior Conservation Fellow) to be a 2019 WCN Scholar. And with WCN support, Juan is pursuing his PhD at the Universidad de Los Lagos in Chile. His research seeks to evaluate the impact that grazing from camelid (llama, alpaca) livestock and associated human activities may be having on the Andean cat and the Pampas cat in the high plains of the central Bolivian Andes. From his research, he hopes to develop mitigation tactics to minimize the negative impacts local shepherding may be having on wildlife, while also considering the needs and customs of locals.
“I care specifically about the Andean cat because, in addition to being exposed to the problems other carnivores face, we still understand so little about its ecological functions and its relationships with the environment in which it lives and the people it coexists with,” says Juan. The most significant threats to the Andean cat come from livestock overgrazing, mining and oil extraction, agricultural conversion, and human persecution of carnivores. Juan strives to formulate solutions that minimize these threats and improve human-wildlife coexistence in the Andes.
Juan is now in the final stretch of completing his Doctorate in Conservation and Management of Natural Resources. Previously, Juan has earned a Post Graduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford and a Licenciate degree in Biology from the Universidad Mayor de San Simon in Cochabamba, Bolivia. For over a decade, he has contributed to the conservation of the Andean cat by conducting species research, collaborating with and educating local communities, and advising on land use in the region, such as sustainable construction of a hydroelectric plant to curtail potential impacts on the Andean cat.
After completing his PhD, Juan wants to apply the benefits of his education to his native Bolivia. He seeks to develop an effective field conservation program for the most threatened wildlife in the Bolivian highlands, ranging from the Andean cat to the puma, and to implement solutions to help local people coexist with these emblematic species. Juan hopes that he can empower local people in the region to conserve wildlife and habitat by “improving their land-use practices and supporting the development of other sustainable and environmentally-friendly development initiatives.”