The Guanaco
A relative of the now-domesticated llama, the guanaco -- Patagonia's largest land vertebrate -- roams the plains of Torres del Paine. Guanacos live in groups, usually a single dominant male accompanied by up to 10 females and their young. Though elegantly formed creatures, guanacos exhibit a number of seemingly incongruous habits. When they greet, for example, the animals exchange a turkey-like gobble and then, on occasion, vomit a wad of semi-masticated grasses.

Female guanacos give birth every other year, mating in August and September. They bear only a single offspring, called a chulengo, which learns to walk within minutes of being born. Male chulengos are driven from the herd after a year, when they are no longer reliant on their mothers. These young males form a separate pack, and challenge the older males for the privilege of leading familial herds.

Conservation Efforts
Though at one time guanacos were significant resources for Patagonian Indians, food and hide hunters decimated the guanaco population from the late 19th century onward. Moreover, the fences of ranches and competing sheep the ranches contained displaced many guanaco herds from their natural habitats. Once numbering in the millions, only about 100,000 guanaco survive today in all of South America.

Interesting Facts

  • Guanacos and llamas are descendants of a jackrabbit-size animal that originated in North America more than 40 million years ago.
  • The guanaco can run nearly 35 miles per hour -- faster than any other Patagonian animal except the puma.
  • Surprisingly, guanacos can swim, and swim rather well.

The Puma
All cats may have more than one life, but only the puma can be called the cat of many names. Depending on where you are, the puma -- which ranges more widely than any other animal in the Americas -- also goes by panther, painter, catamount, cougar, and mountain lion. The Patagonian puma, one of the now recognized 27 puma subspecies, is the southern-most dweller of all its relatives, and one of the largest.

Pumas take full advantage of Torres del Paine's varied terrain. Males and females stake out overlapping home ranges that can include up to 40 square miles, sometimes stretching from deep within forests to caves at the feet of mountains. Within these ranges, the puma takes its rightful place as Patagonia's largest predator, feeding on small mammals and its favorite prey, the guanaco.

Conservation Efforts
Sheep were first introduced to Patagonia in the late 19th century, and were easy prey for pumas. Ranchers hired lion hunters to kill the pumas, but in 1980, the Chilean government made hunting pumas a crime. With the protection of Torres del Paine, puma numbers have risen to unendangered numbers.

Interesting Facts

  • Among nature's most dexterous animals, the puma can traverse 10 miles of rocky countryside in a matter of hours.
  • While they prefer forests and caves, pumas have been known to live in almost any habitat, even swamps.
  • Pumas sometimes wander out of Torres del Paine and dine on the sheep of local ranchers.

The Patagonian Gray Fox
Patagonia's gray fox is truly an animal all its own. Separated evolutionarily from wolves six to seven million years ago, the two foot tall, six to 10 pound gray fox prefers to feed on hares and other rodents. But when prey is scarce, the gray will opt for berries, bird eggs, and insects. Living up to its proverbial namesake, the fox is also opportunistic, feeding on the leftovers of puma kills.

One of the more notable characteristics of the species is the cooperative way in which it eats. Females without litters of their own will often bring food to families of pups. This behavior has played a major role in the fox's survival, and continues to help the species compete against its rivals.

Interesting Facts

  • The ancestor of the Patagonian gray fox migrated across the Panamanian Isthmus into South America, where over time, it became a distinct species.
  • Hares, the gray fox's favorite food, actually were brought to South America in the late 19th century as stowaways on European merchant ships.

The Andean Condor
Ascending from their clifftop nests high above Torres del Paine, Andean condors rule the skies of Patagonia. Interestingly enough, the condor's domain is not one of distance, but of altitude. It is an updraft rider, buoyed aloft by strong currents that flow from the steep mountain slopes and coastal cliffs that comprise the bird's home terrain. Sensitive "fingers," delicate feathers at the tips of the wings, feel the air and allow the condor to adjust its flight accordingly.

Males, with their fleshy red or black crests and light brown eyes, are larger than their red eyes consorts, but both males and females are black with white collars and wing patches. Young condors are brown feathered, gaining their white highlights first and then, by eight years, their black feathers.

Interesting Facts

  • Andean condors can fly as high as 15,000 feet at speeds of nearly 35 miles per hour.
  • Condors only flap their wings during flight to gain or maintain speed or altitude. More often then not, they glide.
  • A condor would rather walk than fly one hundred yards to a clifftop, where it can get airborne without effort.

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