Chile’s endangered huemul population on the rise

A successful species recovery plan led by CONAF has doubled the number of huemuls in Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins in just five years.

The huemul, or south Andean deer, is one of Chile’s most beloved – and endangered – animals.

But a new study by Cambridge University shows that the huemul population in Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins has doubled thanks to a successful species recovery plan led by Chile’s National Forestry Service (Conaf) and its partner organizations.

Conaf, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Zoological Acclimatisation Centercreated a plan in 2002 to restore the huemul population in Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile’s largest and most remote national park on the border between the Aysén and Magallanes Regions. Now, a new study has found that this action plan was able to double the population of the huemul between 2004 and 2008, from 38 animals to 77.

Cristóbal Briceño, coauthor of the study, is a Chilean veterinarian earning his Ph.D. at Cambridge University. According to Briceño, the plan’s success was due to the removal of illegal cattle grazing in the park and the establishment of two ranger stations that have prevented poaching.

The removal of livestock was key to the program’s success, Briceño told La Tercera, because cattle can take over the huemul’s feeding grounds. Additionally, the huemul is a shy animal that often abandons its territory when it senses something threatening, like a large cow.

For Briceño, the success of the initiative is encouraging for a variety of reasons. Not only was the program able to revive the huemul population, but it is also a fantastic illustration of the power of public-private partnerships – and hopefully Chile’s example will encourage similar initiatives in the future.

National parks are at the heart of modern conservation, but there has to be an investment in management and protection on the ground. You can’t just have a ‘paper park’, where an area is ring-fenced on a map but physically ignored,” he told Cambridge University. “The public-private partnerships are essential for conservation acts to be successful.”