grebe_juninThe wetlands of the High Andes are an evolutionary hotspot for the grebe family (Podicipedidae). This unique diversity is, however, rapidly being lost: in the past 30 years, 2 species have gone extinct and another 3 species are on the verge of extinction. Here we report on efforts to save three of these species, the Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi, Junin Grebe Podiceps taczanowskii and Titicaca Grebe Rollandia microptera as part of BirdLife’s High Andean wetlands initiative.

The main threats to the three Neotropical grebes on the verge of extinction are: contamination and habitat alteration due to the mining industry, introduction of exotic fish such as trout, predation by introduced predators, drowning in gill-nets and changing climatic conditions. Of these, the introduction of exotic species and drowning in gill-nets are threats faced by all three species. One of the goals of BirdLife’s High Andean wetlands and Preventing Extinctions programmes is to explore whether there are shared solutions to these shared problems.

Conservation actions for this Critically Endangered species are being implemented by Aves Argentinas in collaboration with Ambiente Sur and are supported by the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, Mohamed bin Zayed Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Fund, and through an international online appeal launched by BirdLife in January 2012. Recent actions have included an assessment of the species’ abundance at known and suspected breeding colonies and the implementation of anti-predator activities by “Colony Guardians”. This is a pioneering new approach which involves the constant presence of a team of “guardians” who monitor the birds throughout the breeding season and help protect them from avian predators such as the Kelp Gull, and from terrestrial predators such as mink through the placement of traps. The colony guardians have also caught and individually marked with wing tags several adult and juvenile Hooded Grebes, to enable the movements of individual birds to be studied. Significant progress has also been made with efforts to create a protected area including the lagoons of the Buenos Aires plateau (which hold the main breeding colonies).