Huemul Deer Recovery
Protecting huemul fawns is key to recovering this species, since over half of fawns die in their first year
Recovering the population of the critically endangered huemul deer represents the top priority for our wildlife program. A symbolic animal in Chile featured on the national shield, the huemul deer requires intensive study and protection to escape extinction.
A hundred years ago, huemuls roamed the southern Andes from Chile's VI Region South. Now highly endangered, no more than 2,000 individuals remain on Earth in scattered populations. With its short legs and stocky build, the deer is well adapted to the rugged and forested mountainous terrain of Patagonia, and historically occupied habitats from the coastal lowlands up to 5500+ feet (1,700 meters). Overhunting and loss of habitat due to the conversion of lowland areas to agricultural production are key factors behind the species' decline. Predation by domestic dogs and introduced diseases from domestic livestock have further threatened the remaining huemul populations. Threats to remaining huemul deer habitat are increasing, especially from mineral and energy development projects in Patagonia.
This project expands the contiguous protected habitat for the critically important population of huemul deer occupying areas along the northern shore of Lago Cochrane and neighboring Tamango National Reserve by a factor of six. The Valle Chacabuco/Tamango population is an estimated 150 individuals, a significant percentage of the species' total numbers. Through removing livestock, reviving ecosystems, and opening up habitat for connectivity, the Patagonia National Park project grants huemul deer the high-quality habitat they need to recover.
With the species' fate hanging in the balance, Conservacion Patagonica studies the deer's ecology, population trends, current threats, and the limiting factors for the species' recovery. We are funding and managing a program to track adults and fawns through radio telemetry in order to understand the deer's survival rates, population trends, and social behavior. This technique represents a major improvement over the visual counts previously employed to monitor the population: the huemul lives in low densities and little family groups, making them hard to spot. As we develop strategies for huemul management and recovery, we are working towards restoring populations across the species' former range and returning this iconic animal to its rightful place of prominence in the forests and mountains of Patagonia.