Chile, no not the hot spice, the country, is known for incredible landscapes and for being situated on the west cost of South America. This beautiful country has many beautiful hidden treasures, and I am going to discuss a few of their very special wildlife species.
Animals that are found in Chile’s landscapes include:
And Lastly, the national animal of Chile, which is the North Andean huemul or taruca.
Guanacos are related to camels, as are vicunas, llamas, and alpacas. But they live in South America, while camels are found in Africa and Asia. Guanacos and vicunas are wild animals, but llamas and alpacas have been domesticated, like cats and dogs, and were probably bred from guanacos. They’re slender animals with pale brown backs, white undersides, short tails, large heads, very long necks, and big, pointed ears.
They live in groups of up to ten females, their young, and a dominant male adult. Unattached bachelor males form herds of their own—these can include as many as 50 or more animals. When a female guanaco gives birth, her new born, known as a chulengo, is able to walk immediately. Chulengos can keep up with the herd right away.
Guanacos live on land high in the Andes mountains—up to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) above sea level—as well as on the lower plateaus, plains, and coastlines of Peru, Chile, and Argentina.
Guanacos were once over hunted for their thick, warm wool. Now they thrive in areas protected by law.
The vicuña (pronounced ve-coon-ah) is a species native to the Andes mountain, closely related to the guanaco. The vicuña is part of the camel family, though it is by far the smallest member. Compared to a guanaco, the vicuña is only about half the size, has a smaller tail, and finer wool. Domestic alpacas are likely to have originated from ancient vinuña domestication attempts.
Vicuñas occupy the grasslands of the central Andes mountains and are adapted to very high elevations. In fact, most vicuñas are found between 10,000 and 15,000 feet – higher than most mountains in many parts of the world. They spend their days feeding throughout the grassy plains. At night, the herds move back into the hills.
In the hills and mountainous regions, vicuñas are able to avoid many of their predators. They are very nimble along rocky ridges, allowing them to evade less agile predators. However, pumas are a major predator of vicuñas, and pumas are more than capable of capturing prey among unsure footing.
Armadillos are barrel-shaped animals covered with natural armor. In fact, its name in Spanish means “little armored one.” The armadillo’s armor works well against most predators, but not against cars. They are also known as the “Hillbilly Speed Bump” for their tendency to get run over by vehicles.
There are 21 species of armadillo, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). Some armadillos are very small, while others are huge. The smallest is the pink fairy armadillo, which is about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long. Giant armadillos are the largest species, and are about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long, according to National Geographic.
An armadillo’s armor is made up of overlapping plates covering the back, head, legs and tail. The number of armored bands identifies the different species, according to the San Diego Zoo. Only one species, the three-banded armadillo, can roll itself into a hard armored ball to defend itself against predators. Other armadillo species simply dig a hole quickly and hunker down so that their tender stomach is protected and their armor is the only thing visible.
Armadillos have pointy snouts and long, sticky tongues, similar to anteaters, which are close cousins. Their eyesight is poor, so they hunt with a highly developed sense of smell. They also have wiry hairs along their sides and belly, which they use to feel their way around, like curb feelers on some cars. They also have strong legs and sharp claws for digging.
Most armadillos stick to areas closer to the equator because they like temperate to warm areas due to their lack of fat stores. According to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management, armadillos are very picky about where they live based on what type of soil is found in the area. Usually, armadillos prefer sandy or loam soils that are loose and porous. This makes digging for food and creating burrows easier.
All armadillos live in Central and South America, except for one species. The nine-banded armadillo ranges from Argentina to the southern United States, according to the Animal Diversity Web (ADW) at the University of Michigan. Since the mid-19th century, nine-banded armadillos have expanded northward. They have been seen in Florida and are now common in Missouri. In 2000, the body of a nine-banded armadillo was found in central Illinois, according to ADW.
Armadillos are not social creatures and spend most of their time sleeping. They usually sleep up to 16 hours each day in burrows, according to National Geographic. During the morning and evenings, they forage for food.
Usually, the only time armadillos get together is to mate or to keep warm. During cold times, a group of armadillos may hunker down in a burrow together to share body heat. Sometimes, a seven-banded armadillo will share its burrow with others of the same gender, though.
Armadillos are omnivores, which means they eat meat and plants, though 90 percent of an armadillo’s diet is made up of insects and larvae, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. With their long, sticky tongue, armadillos catch ants, beetles, termites and other insects after digging them out of the ground. They also eat plants, eggs, small vertebrates and some fruit. From time to time, they will scavenge for dead animals.
The puma is a member of the Felidae family and is the largest predator in Patagonia. Females weigh 110 pounds while the larger male weighs approximately 176 pounds, and they are generally between 10 to 12 feet in length. Pumas have a rounded head with erect ears and strong jaws for clutching prey. Their sleek, muscular bodies end with a thick, long tail, and their large forepaws have five retractable claws, including a dewclaw. Their fur is typically a tawny golden color, though they may have more silvery or reddish coats.
Pumas inhabit 28 countries in the Americas, and Patagonian pumas, one of the largest subspecies, can be found from Arica to Magallanes near the tip of Chile. They dwell in shrubby steppe ecoregions, dense woodlands, and mountains, and are most easily spotted in Torres del Paine National Park, where there is a particularly high density. In Torres del Paine, males and females have overlapping home ranges up to 40 square miles in size.
Prowling the rocky crags and forests, these agile, sharp-eyed cats are extremely proficient night hunters, with a highly developed sense of smell and hearing. These carnivores hunt animals both large and small, including birds such as lesser rheas and upland geese, small mammals such as rodents and hares, deer, and occasionally domestic livestock. The pumasfavorite prey is guanacos, and being ambush predators, they stalk their victims before springing with a powerful leap and securing their meal with a fatal bite to the neck. Though pumas hunt alone, they have been recorded sharing kills with one another.
While pumas, like most cats, are solitary creatures, adults come together to breed, and mothers are fiercely protective of their cubs. Females become sexually mature at 1.5 to 3 years old, and typically give birth to one litter every two to three years. During the spring, a male puma breeds with many females, leaving mothers to raise their cubs alone. After a 3-month gestation period, mothers give birth in a cave or alcove to a litter of between one and six cubs–typically two.
The blind newborns, who will open their eyes after two weeks, weigh only 1 pound. They are covered with black spots, which help camouflage them from predators and eventually fade with age. The kittens nurse for three months, steadily growing in size as they incorporate meat into their diet. By 8 months old the cubs are about 45 pounds and are learning to hunt under the guidance of their mother, who leads them to kill sites and teaches them to catch small prey. After two years, juveniles leave their mothers to establish their own home ranges–male juveniles typically depart before females.
Pumas in Patagonia are threatened by a loss of prey as agricultural developments infringe on their habitat. As the population of guanacos decreases from having to compete for grass with introduced livestock, pumas resort to hunting the sheep of ranchers. Pumas are often poached as a backlash for killing domestic animals, and this has provoked people to create initiatives to mitigate human-puma conflict and promote co-existence between humans and the local wildlife.
Solutions for ranchers include livestock guarding dogs and corralling sheep at night, and for pumas, eco-tourism may be one of their best sources of protection. The importance of preserving critical puma habitat is enforced to the government and local businesses when visitors invest in seeing and learning about these elusive wild cats. The Chilean government prohibited the hunting of pumas in 1980, and with the added protections in place at Torres del Paine, puma populations have risen within the national park.
North Andean huemul or Taruca
The taruca is a medium-sized deer that can grow to a height of 31in (80cm) and weighs up to 176lb (80kg). Their limbs and neck are short and their bodies are stocky.They are identifiable from other types of deer by the dark ‘Y’ or ‘V’ shaped marking on their faces, although this is more pronounced in males. Males also have antlers that can grow up to 11in (27cm). Their coat is made up of thick hairs that are light to grey-brown and white underneath.
Taruca are known to live in groups of up to seven, which include males, females and fawns. The taruca herd social structure is unique when compared with different South American deer species as it is led by a female adult.They breed between June and August, giving birth toone young after a gestation period of around nine months. The female hides the fawn for the first month after it is born before re-joining the herd. Although they live at high altitudes, they generally drop altitude in winter to live in sheltered valleys.
The taruca in habits the central and eastern cordilleras of the northern Andes, including highland areas in southern Peru (including Huascarán and Manu National Parks and Pampa Galeras National Reserve) and northern Chile (Lauca National Park). They are also found in northern Argentina (north of La Rioja) and in the high Andes in the east of Bolivia (north of La Paz and around Cochabamba).
They have been recorded living at altitudes of up to 16,400ft (5,000m) above sea level, but also populate areas of Argentina that sit at a much lower 8,200ft-10,000ft (2,500m-3,000m).Their habitats normally include rocky areas of sparse vegetation, such as sub-alpine meadow and tundra.This explains the sandy gray coloring of their coat, which provides excellent camouflage in this type of environment. In Argentina, lower altitude habitats include wet forest fringes and rocky grasslands.
Although no extensive census has been conducted, estimates put the entire population of the taruca at 12,000-17,000 individuals, with numbers estimated at 1,000 in Chile (where research has been undertaken). Peru is believed to have the largest population, with the number of taruca estimated at between 9,000 and 13,000.
The taruca is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Their habitats normally infringe upon agricultural land, so they are often hunted as an agricultural pest. In Bolivia, they are killed for their antlers as they are believed to be a cure for facial paralysis. Their habitats are also under intense pressure due to human settlement. Their predators include puma, Magellan foxes and domestic dogs.
I hope you enjoyed reading and learning a little more about Wildlife in Chile, we are passionate about Animals Around the Globe and love writing about new topics every week. Comment below if you have any blogs which you’re particularly interested in reading about! Otherwise why not have a look at our other blogs like, Wildlife in England or Wildlife in Colorado!
If travling to Chile is on your radar, have a look at the tour providers below: