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The Andean cat is the most endangered feline in the Americas – only about 1,400 adults remain across Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. This small cat represents a conservation priority not only because of its endangered status but also because it acts as an umbrella species – the health of its populations is directly tied to that of the High Andes ecosystem in which the species lives. The main threats facing these cats are hunting and habitat loss.
The long-term success of the Andean Cat Alliance’s efforts are strongly tied to the participation of local communities – without their buy-in, conservation will not succeed. The CATcrafts project is a way for us to engage these communities in conservation – community members earn an income, often for the first time in their lives, through creating high-quality handcrafts modelled after the Andean cat for international sale.
While participating in this alternative livelihood program, we also engage them in conservation education – reinforcing the value of the Andean cat and wildlife in general for the ecosystem. This serves to strengthen the bond between their cultural values, sustainable socio-economic development, and wildlife conservation. The program ultimately protects more Andean cats by changing the attitudes and behaviour of these communities.
CATcrafts uses craftsmanship as a tool to enable the Andean Cat Alliance to create a connection between wildlife conservation and improved livelihoods in the High Andes communities. Handcrafted products form part of the cultural heritage and way of life of Andean communities and are part of local ancestral traditions. The goal of CATcrafts is to build upon this traditional background, increasing engagement of local communities in conservation of the Andean cat through the adoption of craftsmanship as form of income generation. Simultaneously, this initiative reinforces the cultural identity of the High Andes communities and its profound respect for wildlife and empowering native inhabitants.
Residents of these rural areas are among the poorest in their countries – and yet, they are also living at the front lines of wildlife conservation and have a direct impact on the local ecosystem. CATcrafts enables them to improve their livelihoods while also lessening their impact on the endangered species with whom they share space.
Through CATcrafts, they learn to combine ancient techniques with contemporary design to create artisan products for international sale, and thus, income generation. Along with earning an income, we also engage them in conservation education, so that the tie between this alternative livelihood program and wildlife conservation is clear. As they learn that their improved livelihoods are directly linked to wildlife conservation, we see their attitudes and behaviour towards Andean cats change for the better.
Our activities for the coming year will focus on improving the quality of the handcrafted products through additional training opportunities for the participating artisans. These trainings will incorporate our conservation education messaging, emphasizing the role of the Andean cat as a driver for positive change. We expect our long-term outcomes to include an increase in household incomes, and a continued improvement in attitudes and behaviours towards Andean cats.
The $15,000 raised by the Footprints Network will go towards:
In addition to the participating artisans themselves from the local communities, the CATcrafts project partners with the following organizations:
When AGA was founded in 1999, information available on Andean cats was almost nonexistent. During our first decade, we focused on field research to assess the species’ conservation status and threats. This enabled us to see how critical a role local communities play in conservation – without their buy-in and involvement, effective conservation cannot happen.
More recently, we have dedicated increasing efforts to community engagement and livelihood improvement to reduce the impact of threats affecting the Andean cat. CATcrafts combines AGA’s research, education, and community experience to create a connection between the Andean cat and income generation. This work fits into our larger strategy because with more money in their pockets tied directly to the Andean cat, we see improvements in attitudes and behaviors from community members towards conservation – which in turn leads to less hunting and unsustainable resource use from the local ecosystem, ultimately benefitting both people and wildlife.
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