"Green" Cashmere Protects Patagonian Wildlife

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) applauds the efforts of Argentina’s Grupo Costa del Río Colorado cooperative in its first U.S. sale of “green” cashmere, produced through a system of sustainable practices that protects guanacos, rheas, Andean cats, and other wildlife of the windswept expanse of the Patagonian Steppe.

With assistance from WCS’s Patagonian and Andean Steppe Program, the group has worked to minimize the environmental impact of goat herds that provide cashmere wool for use in knitting high-quality sweaters, hats, gloves, and other garments.

Grupo Costa del Río Colorado producers have initiated modifications such as adjusting herd sizes to match the carrying capacity of their lands, improving the health status of herds, and using guard dogs to minimize livestock-wildlife conflicts with potential predators such as the Andean cat. Overall, the cooperative’s herders are keeping fewer goats, but have increased their income due to better husbandry practices and the higher profit garnered from access to an international market.

Grupo Costa del Río Colorado, with WCS´s support, recently applied for Wildlife Friendly certification for their cashmere. If granted, this certification would allow producers to sell their cashmere with a seal that allows buyers to better distinguish it from other cashmere.

“The cooperative’s first sale to a buyer in the United States represents a 10 percent increase in annual income from goats for members of the group,” said Andres Novaro of WCS. “This is an enormous validation for the program that will hopefully expand to include more goat herders in the following year.”

Julie Kunen, Director of WCS’s Latin America and Caribbean Program, said: “Sustainably produced cashmere provides us with an effective balance of livelihood improvement and conservation. It will also give customers an opportunity to participate in the protection of the unique wildlife of the Patagonian Steppe.”

Ginger Clark, the U.S. buyer who deals in cashmere fibers for hobby spinners, looks forward to a continued relationship with Grupo Costa del Río Colorado and has advised the cooperative’s herders on ways to continually improve the quality and quantity of the product. Ms. Clark also accompanied WCS conservationists on a visit to the Carrizalito cooperative, another herder group that is learning to incorporate sustainable husbandry with cashmere production.

WCS has worked on the Patagonian steppe for more than 20 years conserving guanaco migrations while protecting Darwin´s rheas, Andean condors, waterfowl, and the southernmost population of Andean cats. This has been made possible by generous support from the Butler Conservation Fund, Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Panthera, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Latin America Program. While cashmere production has had a negative impact on biodiversity conservation in other parts of the world, WCS´s work in Patagonia has turned cashmere production into an opportunity to improve people´s livelihoods and promote wildlife conservation.

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