Recovering Threatened Species
A dramatic ecosystem transition is taking place here as Estancia Valle Chacabuco is reborn as Patagonia National Park. Conservacion Patagonica's large-scale ecosystem restoration work serves as the foundation for our targeted species-specific programs, such as our effort to protect and monitor the recovery of the endangered and emblematic huemul deer.
For eight decades, livestock grazed the valleys and hillsides bare: over 25,000 sheep and 3,000 cows were crowded onto Estancia Valle Chacabuco when Conservacion Patagonica purchased it in 2004. The fragile grasslands of the Patagonian steppe could not handle this grazing pressure, deteriorating into a patchwork of eroded land and invasive and unpalatable plants. Hundreds of miles of fencing kept wildlife such as guanaco and huemul deer out of the prime grasslands and forests. Many wild animals died each year trying to cross these fences. Moreover, illegal hunting and attacks from the many dogs of the estancia killed many guanacos and huemul deer, shrinking the guanaco population and pushing the huemul deer to the brink of extinction. Although killing pumas and foxes is technically illegal in Chile, the estancia—like most livestock operations in this region—made a practice of hunting these predators to reduce livestock casualties. As a result, the populations of these species remained unnaturally low and dominated by young individuals.
As wildness returns to this vast area, the populations of keystone species are finding a new equilibrium. With livestock almost gone, grasslands are producing more and better quality food for a range of wild herbivores. For the first time in decades, wild animals such as huemul deer and guanaco have access to prime habitat. In addition, as our volunteer program removes old livestock fencing, populations of these species can move freely through the entire 650,000 acre area that will comprise the park.
Our wildlife recovery programs take this ecosystem-level transition as the jumping-off point for investigations and initiatives to protect and monitor specific species. Few areas in the world of this size have undergone this dramatic a transformation in land use, making this project a key site for biological and ecological research. We monitor endangered and threatened species during this transition and develop strategies for recovering diminished populations.
The huemul deer, a flagship species in Chile but critically endangered, represents the top priority for the Patagonia National Park project. In parallel, given these ecosystem changes we're tracking and monitoring pumas with GPS collars in order to uncover new information about their predation patterns, home ranges, and movements—critical data given their proximity to the threatened huemul deer population. Simultaneously, we're developing strategies, such as livestock guardian dogs, to prevent predator/ livestock conflicts. Many of our neighbors continue to raise livestock; we're seeking to demonstrate effective means of protecting domestic animals without shooting predators. In the upcoming years, we'll launch wildlife recovery programs focused on other threatened species of Patagonia.
To get more information about our Wildlife Recovery Programs, click below: