Blown Away in Patagonia

Spindly-Legged Guanacos

With four microclimates, Torres del Paine packs abundant and accessible nature into a concentrated area. Our arrival coincided with early summer, when delicate lady's slippers, porcelain orchids, and mudbush bloom. The lagoons teemed with newly hatched, black-necked swans, Chilean flamingos, upland geese, and ruddy ducks. Ostrich-like rheas and hares scampered in cluster grasses and low shrubs.

Spindly-legged guanacos were grazing everywhere with their wobbly, newborn chulengos. More than 2,500 of the 300-pound cameloids, relatives of the llama and alpaca, gracefully roam the park. On our first morning, we came upon herds nursing right off the roadbed, unintimidated by our van or a Nikon-flashing mammal.

In a faint mist, we began a seven-kilometer hike to the Blue Lagoon by following a sheep farmer's perimeter fence up a modest hill. Unexpectedly, we came upon a dazed chulengo entangled in the fence's horizontal wires. Two female guanacos looked on in distress. They hissed as our guide and a guest struggled to free the baby and lay him on the ground. He was maimed in the rear hip and couldn't stand.

This is an all-too-common occurrence in Torres del Paine. The adults leap the fences effortlessly; their young are left to try, futilely, to ram themselves through. Eventually, the guanacos would move on, leaving the hulengo's carcass to be preyed upon by the park's condors and other scavengers.

The desperate scene set a somber tone for the hike. Even here, on protected land hours from the nearest town, humans impact the survival of wildlife.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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