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Rewilding Argentina

Special Interest Programme / Partner story / Video

Mingo with tourists and his son during an outing at Portal Carambola, Iberá Park. Photo credit: Matías Rebak

The giant anteater, the pampas deer, the collared peccary, the green and red macaw — what do these birds and mammals have in common? All were once native, iconic species of Argentina’s Iberá wetlands until becoming locally extinct. Now, however, they have been reintroduced to Iberá thanks to a “rewilding” initiative led by Rewilding Argentina, a not-for-profit Argentine organisation dedicated to ecological restoration. This work began in the 1990s, and its success follows intensive collaboration with the national government, the province of Corrientes, and the national parks administration.

Next to be reintroduced to the wetlands is the giant river otter and the jaguar – both top predators once native to the region, and essential for helping to restore the vast area to its natural balance.

Founded in 2010 by Argentine conservationists, Rewilding Argentina seeks to reverse the extinction of local species, to recover the functioning of ecosystems, and to promote the wellbeing of local communities. Working together with biologists, veterinarians, park rangers, governments, and residents, “rewilding” is one of its most important tools.

So, what is “rewilding” anyway? Rewilding is a conservation effort that means “actively working to help locally extinct animals return to the places that they inhabited, re-establishing relations and interactions that keep ecosystems healthy”. To this end, Rewilding Argentina employs two strategies: first, rehabilitating injured or captive animals so that they can return to life in the wild; and second, helping to establish new, healthy populations of wildlife, by moving healthy animals from national parks or other protected areas to areas under restoration.

But rewilding is also something more; it is part of a larger vision. Rewilding draws on the strengths of local communities, centring sustainability within people’s homes and livelihoods. Rewilding efforts mean that local communities can proudly share their home with nature-loving visitors, while benefitting mutually from them. And ecosystems benefit local communities by providing elements that sustain life, such as clean water, clean air, and healthy environments that are more resilient and resistant to climate change. At the same time, the ecosystem remains respected, protected, kept beautiful, restored, healthy, and vibrant.

The impact of this new model of development in Iberá “lies in the ecosystem’s health, the community’s wellbeing, and the amount of young people that want and choose to stay”, says Sofía Heinonen, executive director of Rewilding Argentina. The goal is that generations of young people will “bet on this place they call home”.

Examples of this vision abound in Rewilding Argentina’s projects across the country. These include: hosting special programmes that convene businesses and networks of artisans and cooks in Iberá; and collaborating with a local university to support farmers to produce cosmetic lines made of seaweed. The latter is part of a sustainable ocean farming project on the southern coast of Patagonia Azul.

Mingo, a native resident of Iberá, began his relationship with Rewilding Argentina five years ago, in 2017. He had been a hunter by trade and began offering horseback rides through the marshes and wetlands to visitors in 2005. Back then, he says these “were long trips that started at four in the morning” with “two or three tourist reservations per month”. Now, “in the good months, we have two or three reservations per day.” This increase in interest greatly benefits the residents financially, and the residents, like Mingo, get to share with visitors the unique place they call home.

“What I like the most is to show visitors what we do with the horse and the canoe,” says Mingo. “I feel proud to show our roots and traditions and what we have around us.”

This grant falls under Oak Foundation’s Special Interest Programme, which covers a wide range of fields, including environment, health, humanitarian relief, education, and the arts. You can find out more about the programme and its strategy by clicking here. Rewilding Argentina is heir to the legacy of Tompkins Conservation. Find out more here. You can also learn more about Rewilding Argentina’s great work in Iberá, as well as other regions including Gran Chaco, Patagonia, and the Argentine Sea, by watching the video below.