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
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.
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
- 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
- Surprisingly, guanacos can swim, and swim rather
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
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.
- 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