The huemul is Chile’s most famous and well-known deer, even though the majority of Chileans have only seen one in photos or on the country’s national shield. You won’t see them in a zoo because they are very fragile creatures that do not survive in captivity. In fact, practically the only possibility for observing this shy creature is to venture to Patagonia. Once you arrive it’s still a challenge; you’ll need to have patience, know how to choose the right place, and be graced with a bit of good luck.
How do I recognize them?
The Huemul, or South Andean Deer, (hippocamelus bisulcus), is a mammal of the family Cervidae. It has a stocky build and short legs. Bucks can reach 165 cm in length, while does are a little smaller. Their thick and dense coat is beige or dark-brown, depending on the season. Their ears and tail are from 4 to 8 cm in length. The bucks have forked antlers that can reach 30 cm in length. They weigh between 40 and 100 Kg. The huemul is an herbivorous animal which feeds on bushes, grasses and tree sprouts, as well as the lichen found on rocks in mountainous areas. During much of the year, the male huemul ranges alone, while the does and their fawns live in small family groups of 2 or 3; however, this depends on the time of year and the mating cycle.
There are a handful of local guides in Cochrane who offer trekking and huemul observation in the Reserve. Some also participate in local research led by Conaf, like the annual census in the Reserve. They can share their experience and knowledge as you hike, helping you to understand the habits of the huemul and the natural history of the area. Contact the Conaf offices in Cochrane for recommendations: Río Nef 417; (067) 2522164; www.conaf.cl/conaf/seccion-conaf-aysen.html.