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Surrounded by a natural arena of sunset-tinged and snow-capped peaks, it is impossible to imagine a more wild and spectacular location than Lago Pehoé in southern Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. The jaw-dropping scenery is also filled with wildlife, so between bouts of trekking, river rafting and horse riding, ticking off the park’s most iconic fauna comes remarkably easily to the curious traveller.

The Guanaco
Just a few decades ago the llama’s close cousin the guanaco was endangered, but now there are more than 3,000 of the camelids (also close relatives of the camel) living in the Torres del Paine National Park. They are a deceptively compact animal - just over 1m-high at the shoulder - but still easily spotted on the grassy tundra punctuating Torres del Paine’s dramatic combination of alpine lakes, soaring peaks and turquoise-tinged glaciers. Count on being greeted with a look that is a quizzical cross between “Can I help you?” and “What are you staring at?”

The Puma
More than 3,000 guanacos are apparently more than enough to sustain a growing population of pumas. The Patagonian puma is the southernmost of all mountain lions, and also one of the largest. Like any cat they are solitary and independent creatures, so any sightings are likely to be restricted to bigger than expected paw prints in the snow. Keep your eyes peeled for the more delicate prints of puma cubs, padding along beside their graceful, but powerful mothers.

The Andean Grey Fox
In the brutally pragmatic Patagonian eco-system, it is not just pumas targeting the guanacos.  Getting close to a sleek Andean grey fox is surprisingly straight forward, especially if they are hungry and preoccupied with eating. They prefer target hares and rodents, but will happily chow down on any guanacos that have already been killed by pumas.

The Andean Condor
The surging and swirling thermals of Patagonia’s cliffs, peaks and valleys are the perfect environment for the mighty Andean condor. A wing-span of more than 3m – the largest of any land bird – enables these impressive scavengers to stay aloft with minimal effort. Explorer and naturalist Charles Darwin actually noted watching one soar for half an hour without moving its wings.  Pack good binoculars for the best views of these magnificent birds.

The South Andean Deer
There are only around 2,000 of the endangered South Andean deer or huemul alive, which together with the Andean condor, is featured on Chile’s National Coat of Arms. Like the guanaco, the huemul is a relatively compact animal, standing around 1m high. Keep an eye on the stunning lakeside trek from Lago Pehoé to Glaciar Grey and you might be lucky. Hey, it has happened before.

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Chilean Patagonia: wildlife spotting in the Torres del Paine National Park’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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