CLIMATE NATIONAL

Chile launches initiative to restore Chile’s huemul

A public-private initiative is underway to protect the huemul population in Chile’s Patagonia. This at a time when the population stands at 1 percent of its historic population. The initiative includes the first rescue, rehabilitation and reproduction center for the species.

On March 6, Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture, its National Agricultural and Livestock Service, its Forestry Service, and Rewilding Chile, a legacy foundation of Tomkins Conservation, launched a public-private initiative, the “National Huemul Corridor,” to strengthen the huemul population in key conservation areas of Patagonia’s Route of Parks. 

The initiative comes at a time when the animal’s population has been reduced to just 1 percent of its historic population. The initiative also involves the creation of the first Rescue, Rehabilitation and Reproduction Center for the species. The center will be located in the Aysén region.

“Respecting wildlife means repairing some of the damage we have caused. One way to do this is to restore corridors for crucial species such as the huemul, whose time is running out,” said Kristine Tompkins, co-founder and president of Rewilding Chile. The recovery of the huemul will be a long-term commitment and require collaboration from all sectors of society, Tompkins added. 

The South Andean deer lives high in the Andes and in the Patagonian forests. They are unique to Chile and Argentina. Originally, the huemul roamed the central valley of Chile all the way to the southern tip of the continent, but the species’ population has plummeted because of hunting, diseases from livestocks, and dog attacks. Habitat deterioration has also shrunk the population and caused local extinctions. As few as 1,500 huemul remain today.

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Agriculture Minister Esteban Valenzuela said the huemul is Chile’s national symbol, which can be found from the Cachapoal Province in O’Higgins to Magallanes.

Valenzuela added that the animal’s population has been reintroduced in significant numbers, and officials are working alongside Rewilding Chile to keep the momentum going by establishing a contiguous corridor to protect the species.

The Aysén region remains a hotspot for the species. Authorities plan to establish Patagonia’s first Huemul rescue center close to Cerro Castillo National Park, where the Forestry Service and the National Agricultural and Livestock Service are already caring for the species.

Wildlife rangers will carry out daily operations to transfer the huemul. And veterinarians will be ready to treat and rehabilitate the deer.

The anticipated center requires an initial investment of about US$500,000. The center has support from its stakeholders, the Mesa Intersectorial del huemul and the Mesa Castillo, which consist of the Agricultural and Livestock Service, the Forestry Service, and Rewilding Chile.

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