Buenos Aires: An Argentine biologist has combined respect for nature and traditions with scientific rigour in her efforts to save the "emblematic" vicuna, a species of great value for the inhabitants of alpine areas of the Andes mountains.
Bibiana Vila has devoted 25 years of her life to preserve and defend the camelid species, which lives at an altitude of 12,460 feet above sea level and is under threat from poachers who covet its valuable wool.
"The vicuna is highly valuable, not just for the market but for its ecosystem because it's the largest animal of the Puna grassland, an emblematic species because if it can be preserved then many other species can be saved...such as some toads," the biologist told Spanish news agency Efe.
To capture individual vicunas for research purposes, Vila, director of the VICAM (Vicunas, Camelids and Environment) research group, used a pre-Columbian ritual known as the "chaku", which she carries out with members of her team.
"It involves making a 'chayada', or a hole in the ground, to put food, coca leaves, cigarettes and alcohol inside, so (local indigenous communities) deliver the vicunas to us for a short while," said Vila, who Wednesday received the UN Midori Prize in Pyeongchang city in recognition of her work.
Once captured, the vicunas are taken to a cooperative located in Jujuy province, where blood samples will be taken and an ID collar is placed around their necks before they are sheared and returned to their natural habitat.
The samples will be used for research, but the wool benefits the local Santa Catalina farm and ranching cooperative, which works closely with Vila's team.
"This recognition of many years of work preserving a species of the Altiplano that yields its fiber in exchange for its conservation is very gratifying," the biologist said.