Huemul National Corridor

Photo: Hernán Povedano

Huemul

Hippocamelus bisulcus

An estimated 1,500 huemules live in Chile and Argentina, in small, fragmented populations that are vulnerable to a series of threats including forest fires, illegal hunting, and reduction and deterioration of their habitat, among others. In response to this critical situation, the National Huemul Corridor (or CNH, after its acronym in Spanish), an ambitious public-private initiative that seeks to reestablish this species’ population using wildlife corridors in key conservation areas along the Route of Parks of Patagonia, was formed.

The project includes all critical zones where huemul populations still exist. Rewilding Chile began our work with this species in 2015 in what is now Patagonia National Park. Other areas have been incorporated into these efforts over the years, including the northern part of Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park, the Futaleufú National Reserve and surrounding areas, and the Las Horquetas area of Cerro Castillo National Park.

Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park Area and the Puelo River Basin

Since 2018, we’ve collaborated with the organization Puelo Patagonia in an effort to identify and understand the distribution and population of the huemul in this zone. This initiative has generated the area’s first scientific data about the huemul. The project’s early phases were supported by National Geographic, funding that aided the development of a monitoring system, including the installation of 28 camera trap points.

Futaleufú National Reserve

In collaboration with Conaf in the Los Lagos Region, we’ve strengthened huemul monitoring efforts in this national reserve. This partnership has allowed an additional 10 camera traps to be added to Conaf’s monitoring network, which already included 15 for individual sighting registrations. In addition to this work, Conaf and Rewilding Chile staff have carried out fieldwork that’s led to sightings of huemules and huemul tracks, information that’s being tracked alongside early images captured by these cameras.

Cerro Castillo National Park, Las Horquetas

New land acquisitions in the Las Horquetas area, near Cerro Castillo, led to new opportunities for huemul conservation, aided by the fact that this is a key wintering area for this species. Our partnership with Conaf and SAG has led to various initiatives for protecting huemules in this zone, including the removal of fencing from their habitat, monitoring efforts and the installation of 16 camera traps, and support in capturing huemules for tracking and the treatment of individuals afflicted with caseous lymphadenitis. This partnership has also included visits with neighboring communities to coordinate efforts to diminish threats to the huemul population.

Photo: Hernán Povedano

Photo: Hernán Povedano

Photo: Hernán Povedano

Photo: Hernán Povedano

Photo: Hernán Povedano

Patagonia National Park

Huemul conservation efforts in this area began in 2004 with the purchase of the Chacabuco Valley Estate, an initial step toward the creation of what is now Patagonia National Park. Early conservation initiatives included gradually removing livestock from the area, which helped restore more wild habitat to the huemul, as well as the removal of fencing from the lenga forests and scrubland where the huemul could be found. To date, monitoring efforts in this area, mainly north of Lake Cochrane, have permitted us to detect not just an increase in the population and range of the huemul, but also increase our general knowledge about the species’ presence in the region.

To date, within the park, there are 8 huemules with radio collars and 15 camera traps aiding in monitoring efforts. We hope to increase the number of camera traps to 30 total and continue to collar 6–8 huemules annually, in addition to tagging 4–8 calves. Current monitoring efforts reach roughly 30% of the 150 huemules in Patagonia National Park. These initiatives are carried out by three park rangers.

Lifecycle monitoring begins in November, with the tracking of pregnant females, whose calves are born in November and December. In the following months, tracking continues with the calves, including registration and tagging of individuals. During the fall months, groups are tracked, including the identification of females and their young, and in winter, pregnant females and adult males are marked along with juveniles.

Photo: Hernán Povedano

Common name
Huemul, huemul del sur, South Andean deer, wümul (Mapudungún)

Scientific name
Hippocamelus bisulcus

Conservation status
Endangered, by Chile’s Species Classification System, since 2007
Endangered, by the IUCN’s red list, since 2016
Declared a Natural Monument in Chile (2006) and Argentina (1996)

Photo: Hernán Povedano

is considered the southernmost deer in the world

Species characteristics

The huemul, or South Andean deer, is considered the southernmost deer in the world. It’s a robust, sturdy animal, and can be spotted solo or in small familiar groups. The males are characterized by a black, Y-shaped spot on the face, as well as pronged antlers that can grow up to roughly 12 inches and are shed in winter. Female huemules do not have antlers, and are normally found accompanied by their calf from that season, as well as by a male. Huemules are excellent swimmers and have thick, dense fur adapted to both land and water.

Distribution and habitat

The huemul’s distribution originally extended from the 34th to the 54th parallel south in Chile, along with Andean forests and exotone steppe in Argentina between the 36th and 52nd latitude south. To date, its original distribution has been dramatically reduced, including extinction from some areas and a fragmented population in others. It is estimated that no more than 1,500 individuals survive in Chile and Argentina, with a reduction of more than 99% in population size and 50% in geographic distribution. For this reason, it is considered to be in danger of extinction.

The huemul’s principal habitat is lenga forest and ñire scrubland, though it can also dwell in mountain steppes. Fragmented populations can be found in the highest parts of the southern Andes (between roughly 3,000 to 4,500 feet above sea level), likely due to loss of its original habitat.

Lifecycle

The females gestate for seven to eight months, after which one calf is born. The calves are spotless at birth, with uniform-colored fur, and typically spend the first two weeks of their life resting on the ground to avoid being spotted by predators. During this early phase, the calves only move for short periods of time, to be fed by their mother. Huemules have a lifespan of around 12 years.

Main food sources

The huemul is a foraging species, consuming herbaceous plants and tree and shrub leaves, a diet that can vary with latitude and season. Its favorites include the devil’s strawberry, orchids, anemone, and paramela. It also seeks out woody plants, such as shrubs, young trees, dwarf maitén, ciruelillo, parrilla, chaura, and lenga.

Threats

The threats facing the huemul come mainly from human activity, including forest fires, illegal hunting, habitat reduction and modification (including logging, changes in land use, and the replacement of native vegetation), and the introduction of wild species like the red deer and wild boar, which has led to heightened competition for food sources, displacement toward a lower-quality habitat, and increased disease transmission. Other human-caused threats include infrastructure projects (roads, power stations, and mining), poorly planned tourism development, dog attacks, and disease transmission by domestic livestock. In relation to this last threat, caseous lymphadenitis has sprung up amongst wild populations, caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, which is transmitted to the huemul by domestic livestock. These bacterial infections typically lead to abscesses in different parts of the huemul’s body.