Rare Andean Deer Found in Chile’s Northern Patagonia

Thanks to an alliance between the non-profit Puelo Patagonia, Tompkins Conservation and the National Geographic Society, researchers have made the first scientific discovery of endangered huemuls (south Andean deer) in the Puelo Valley, a remote area of Chile’s Lakes District. This groundbreaking finding makes evident the need for further monitoring and protection of the species.

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May 28, 2019- Thanks to the accounts of rural settlers living in a remote region of the Andes, rare huemul deer have been discovered in an area without previous record of the species. While the Puelo Valley is located only one hundred miles from the regional capital of Puerto Montt, via an unpaved road and ferry transit on the Tagua Tagua Lake, this mountainous region near the Argentine border has seen little development. The first road arrived to the area only in the last few decades. The area currently lacks the official protection that a park or reserve status would bring.

Native to Chile and Argentina, the huemul deer has been reduced to a population of approximately 2000 individuals. It is considered extremely endangered due to threats upon its natural habitat, which include cattle, domestic dogs and wild boar. Distributed between both countries, the huemul is increasingly restricted to remote sectors that are difficult to access. Continuing this monitoring program to collect scientific data on the behavior of the species will be crucial in developing conservation plans using a cross-border approach in conjunction with non-governmental organizations, the state and local communities.

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The finding is nothing short of a milestone, according to Andrés Diez, Project Coordinator of Puelo Patagonia. He explained, “Now it’s vital to guide public and private efforts to ensure the conservation of this population of huemuls in the long term.” For Diez, the Puelo river basin represents the biodiversity of the austral Andes, “By protecting the huemul, we are ensuring the conservation of one of the most emblematic species of our country.”

Trap cameras installed by wildlife experts documented the presence of adult deer, both male and female, and fawns. The study proceeded under the technical direction of the Wildlife-Rewilding team of Tompkins Conservation, a foundation with a successful huemul conservation program in Patagonia National Park since 2005.

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Cristián Saucedo, administrator of the Tompkins Conservation Wildlife Program, explained that the initiative will continue to develop over the course of a year. After documenting the presence of the species, he noted that the coalition will propose conservation strategies with a transboundary approach, “huemuls, condors and other species are an integral part of the Patagonian Andean ecosystem shared by both Chile and Argentina.”

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