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.
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?”
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.
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 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.
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
The article 'Chilean Patagonia: wildlife spotting in the Torres del Paine National Park' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.