29.09.2014

An Argentine researcher was recognized by the UN for her work in conservation of vicuñas

Bibiana Vila is a scientific coordinator of the Advisory Council of Biodiversity and Sustainability of the Ministry of Science. It is the first time an Argentine scientist has won this prize.

The researcher Bibiana Vila [Photo: Silvina Enrietti]

The researcher Bibiana Vila [Photo: Silvina Enrietti]

The scientific coordinator of the Advisory Council of Biodiversity and Sustainability of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, Bibiana Vila, has been awarded by the Convention on Biological Diversity of the ONU (CBD) together with the AEON Foundation from Japan.  She won the Midori prize, which is awarded every two years and recognizes individuals whose study of the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, have made outstanding contributions to global, regional or local level. Vila, who has spent more than thirty years dedicated to the study and conservation of the vicuñas, will receive the prize on October 15 at the Conference of the Parties (COP12) in the city of PyeongChang, Korea.

"Vicuñas are really beautiful animals, very interesting species in biological and economical terms, as well as very valuable for its high symbolic, social and economic value for indigenous communities of the High Andes", said Vila

Upon notification of the prize, which is awarded for the first time to an Argentine researcher, Vila thanked the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET):  "CONICET is and has been my main institution since I was 23 and I started to study the vicuñas in the high altiplano mountains". "I developed a career doing scientific research on vicuñas thereby providing a basis for decision-making in conservation and management of the species" she added. "Vicuñas are really beautiful animals, very interesting species in biological and economical terms, as well as very valuable for its high symbolic, social and economic value for indigenous communities of the High Andes". Nominations from more than 60 countries were received and the winners were selected based on their contributions to the goals of the UN Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020) and the Aichi Biodiversity document in line with the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

In addition to the conservation of wild vicuñas, Bibiana Vila led the implementation of sustainable use measures integrating both traditional knowledge of indigenous communities and modern science for animal welfare. Moreover, the award recognizes her significant contributions by integrally promoting support to local communities and the implementation of environmental education. This has been achieved through the sustainable use of economically high-value vicuña fiber, one of the most valuable in the world. According to the AEON Environmental Foundation, co-host of the prize, "results in the conservation and sustainable use designed by Vila can be considered as a modern model of conservation and are very significant".

Vila is also the head of the research group VICAM (vicuñas, camels and environment) and recovered, in consort with the local Andean communities, the “chaku”, the prehispanic wildlife capture technique and shearing of vicuñas allowing the animal to be sheared without damages. The approaches generate income for economically deprived indigenous communities and give the communities the incentives of conservation of ecosystems and species. VICAM received in recent years subsidies for $ 327,900 from the Ministry of Science.

The vicuña is a wild species of South American camelid living in the highlands. Until 1950 it was in serious danger of extinction due to lack of management and conservation plans. Since the arrival of the Spaniards the hunting and export of hides for the production of fiber began, which can worth US$600 per kilo, led to the virtual disappearance of these animals. In those days, the vicuña population in America was close to 4 million; in 1950 it was no more than 10,000.

In the late 70s Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Ecuador signed an agreement for the conservation and management of the vicuñas which allowed the recovering of its population, nowadays vicuñas population is more than 76 thousand in our country

In Santa Catalina, Jujuy, 3,800 meters above sea level, researchers from CONICET, along with communities and local producers have managed to recover a sustainable prehispanic technology for obtaining vicuña fiber. It is an ancient capturing ceremony by which wild vicuñas are herd and sheared to get fiber. It is called Chaku and was performed in the region before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors.

Besides Vila, who received US$ 100,000, the Convention on Biological Diversity United Nations awarded Kamal Bawa of India for his contribution to research on tropical forests and Alfred Oteng-Yeboah of Ghana for his efforts at political level for biodiversity conservation in Africa.

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