The huemul deer, also known as the South Andean deer, is the largest native deer in Chile. It is an iconic animal to the country, appearing on Chile’s coat of arms and named a natural national monument. The huemul deer was once a common inhabitant of the Andean mountain range’s Chilean and Argentinian sides, stretching from Santiago to the Straits of Magellan. However, their population numbers are rapidly shrinking as the population has declined by 99%.
Today, there are approximately only 2000 huemul left in the wild, with 1500 in Chile and 500 in Argentina. This deer is considered one of the world’s most threatened deer species. Some of the threats causing this population decline include habitat loss, poaching, diseases brought on by livestock, an influx of invasive species, and species mismanagement.
In Chile, a public-private project called the National Huemul Corridor aims to protect and boost the huemul deer population and push for large-scale ecosystem restoration. The project is a collaboration between Rewilding Chile Foundation, Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture, the National Forestry Corporation and the National Agricultural and Livestock Service. The project will connect the huemul’s habitat with the Route of Parks, a scenic route that spans 1700 miles between Puerto Montt and Cape Horn and 17 national parks.
The Route of Park encompasses one-third of Chile, has little human influence and is a refuge for endangered species such as the huemul deer. The land was donated by Rewilding Chile, which purchased areas of wilderness and private grazing land in Patagonia for restoration and conservation projects. Over 400 000 hectares of rewilded land was given to create the Route of Parks. The project includes all critical zones where huemul populations still exist. The Huemul Corridor will protect the animal from hunting and construction threats.
The National Huemul Corridor aims to restore the Huemul population to its original numbers or as close as possible to what they once were. The project includes creating protected areas for the huemul and building a huemul rescue and rehabilitation centre for the species. Daily operations will be carried out by wildlife rangers experienced in capturing and transferring huemuls and teams of veterinarians and wildlife managers working in treatment and rehabilitation. This is the first of its kind in Chile.
The Rewilding Chile Foundation aims to use the huemul as a flagship for broader rewilding efforts, which could benefit other iconic animals, including the Andean condor. The animals are constantly monitored to see if population numbers will increase. If successful, this project could be expanded to other countries experiencing a loss of native species.