02 May The Wildlife of Patagonia
I have been extremely lucky to have spent almost three months touring around Patagonia this season and have been subject to a number of incredible wildlife encounters and experiences. From the Ultimo Salto of a Guanaco (which luckily was never witnessed in person), to foxes cunningly sneaking about the camp, Patagonian Hares darting across open stretches of field, Condors soaring thousands of meters above, Penguins curiously paddling about their own home, Kind Crabs inching their way across the bitterly cold bottom of the Magellan Straight, Humpback Whales breaching to the awe of onlookers, and to of course, the ever present desire to catch even a glimpse of the ever illusive Puma. The Patagonia is wild and supports an impressive array of Wildlife. These are a few photos and stories of my three months spent chasing the Puma and finding anything and everything in between.
One of the most common wildlife encounters in southern South America is the majestic Guanaco. Seen here grazing on the outskirts of Torres del Paine National Park.
The Guanaco is a cousin of the Lama, Vicuña, Alpaca (most often found further north in SA around Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia). The Guanaco has a tough skin and is covered most of the year in a thick coat of fur, sometimes sheered and sold, however it is not common as the animals are not domesticated. Guanacoas are also protected in both Chile and Argentina and are most commonly sighted in the National Parks of the Patagonia region. They are not necessarily vicious, however if you provoke one, like any other wild animal, they will protect themselves with deadly force and maybe even send a spit in your direction.
The Guanaco is also the preferred food of the South American Mountain Lion, more commonly referred to as the Puma. Apparently near Torres del Paine National Park, there is an estimated one Puma for every 60 square kilometers. This makes southern Chile the most saturated habitat area in the entire continent and gives the tourist a much better chance of seeing the elusive animal. These statistics are drawn from the fact that the Guanaco abides in this area in large numbers. Simple, where the food is, the predator is.
The second most common sight in Patagonia is the one time illusive Patagonian Fox. This little guy is however becoming more and more domesticated with the larger numbers of people visiting the region and creating easier access to food. They are cunning and quick and happen to be incredibly cute. Also protected in the National Parks system, these foxes have a pretty good life and no real natural predators other than maybe the Puma. Here are a few shots taken recently.
Another common sight is the Giant Condor soaring in its ever present search for a rooting corpse to feast upon. The condor is one of the biggest birds in the world with a wing span of up to 3 meters, longer than the height of most human beings. The Condor nests high in the cliff sides of the granite spires and flies on rising thermals never flapping its giant wings. The vision of the Condor is ten times that of a human and they can fly up to 5km above the earth, which is more than almost any bird, anywhere. It is truly an amazing sight to catch one flying by or cruising miles above your head, constantly searching.
On the subject of birds, there are also some incredible Hawks and Eagles soaring high above the Patagonian Steppe. Here is an Eagle of which I cannot remember the name unfortunately. However the sighting of this majestic creature posed on a fence post is something I will not son forget. Incredible species and symbol of strength.
Now some of the more not so common animals I have also been lucky to spot along the route. Here is a great shot taken of a Humpback Whale playing with a boat cruising the Beagle Channel. This shot was taken just a few weeks ago by one of my passengers Kevin Yung. Great shot Kev and thanks for sharing. The Humpbacks join Orcas and Sei Whales annually migrating through the strait sometimes switching oceans or just following the trail in search for good breeding grounds. It is an incredible sight to come across and I feel luckly to have done so on more than one occasion.
There are a number of unique species of Flora, Fuana, and Wildlife that reside in Patagonia. This post highlights but a few. It is an amazing life changing experience to encounter any wildlife within its home habitat and Patagonia is just one of many places where this is possible. Have you been to the far South? What was your most incredible Wildlife experience/encounter? No matter where or when, lets here it!
Cheers from Potosi, Bolivia.