New sightings of huemul in the Puelo River basin

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 Photo: Puelo PatagoniaPhoto: Puelo Patagonia

By Tomás Moggia
Armed only with bits and pieces of information that was almost exclusively tied to accounts passed down from locals who had turned the subject into one bordering on myth, a group of scientific researchers in 2019 for the first time documented the presence of the huemul in the upper part of the Puelo River basin.
Now, this project has additional data grounded in photographic evidence: more than 1,500 days of trap camera records have picked up new and beautiful images of this rare deer listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Their new findings in the mountains of the Los Lagos region in Chile more firmly estimate the presence of between 17 and 22 specimens of the species in an area of about 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres).
The initiative, led by local environmental groups Puelo Patagonia and Tompkins Conservation with financial support from the National Geographic Society, once again shines a light on the importance of biological corridors for native fauna. The registered populations are located in a mountainous area on the border of Chile and Argentina that demonstrates the importance of doing collaborative work on both sides of the border to achieve the main objective of conserving over the long-term the emblematic huemul.
Indeed, the Argentine Parks Administration has carried out its own research in two neighboring protected areas: Lago Puelo National Park and the Río Turbio Provincial Park and Reserve. Their trap cameras installed in Lago Puelo National Park have also registered several specimens of the deer, including adult males, juveniles, females and newborn young.
Photo: Puelo PatagoniaPhoto: Puelo Patagonia
Photo: Puelo PatagoniaPhoto: Puelo Patagonia
Hernán Pastore of the Huemul Conservation Program of the Argentine Parks Administration reiterates that "any effort to conserve the huemul in the Puelo River basin must be addressed jointly between the two countries and in a coordinated manner, as it is the only population of huemuls that inhabit a border area between the two countries.”
Pushed toward the high mountains by human society, the huemul has found in this rugged area of Puelo a refuge. However, there is now heightened concern over the lack of protection that these animals continue to experience on the Chilean side of the Andes.
"Currently, the habitat of these populations is protected in Argentina under the category of national park, but on the Chilean side there is no official protection of the territory in question," says Cristián Saucedo, director of rewilding for Tompkins Conservation Chile.
Still, Saucedo is optimistic that the new findings will lead to new actions that limit and control threats to the huemul and its habitat, including a joint plan between organizations, government institutions and local communities in both countries that will safeguard one of the last refuges of the huemul in northern Patagonia.