Welcome to Wildlife in Chile.
Chile, not a hot spice country, is known for its incredible landscapes and is situated on the western coast of South America. This beautiful country has many beautiful hidden treasures, and we will discuss a few of its very special wildlife species.
Animals that are found in Chile’s landscapes include:
Wildlife in Chile. And Lastly, the national animal of Chile, 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, 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, including as many as fifty or more animals. When a female guanaco gives birth, the newborn, known as a chulengo, can 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—and on Peru, Chile, and Argentina’s lower plateaus, plains, and coastlines.
Guanacos were once overhunted 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 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—a great animal from Wildlife in Chile.
Vicuñas occupy the grasslands of the central Andes mountains and are adapted to very high elevations. Most vicuñas are between 10,000 and 15,000 feet – higher than most mountains in many parts of the world. They spend their days feeding through the grassy plains. At night, the herds move back into the hills.
In the hills and mountainous regions, vicuñas can avoid many of their predators. They are very nimble along rocky ridges, allowing them to evade less agile predators. However, pumas are a significant predator of vicuñas, and pumas are more than capable of capturing prey on unsure footing.
Armadillos are barrel-shaped animals covered with natural armor. 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, about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long. According to National Geographic, giant armadillos are the biggest species and are about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long.
An armadillo’s armor comprises overlapping plates covering the back, head, legs, and tail. According to the San Diego Zoo, the number of armored bands identifies the different species. Only one special species, the three-banded armadillo, can roll into a hard armored ball to defend itself against predators. Other armadillo species can quickly dig a hole, then 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 regions due to their lack of fat stores. Interestingly, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management, armadillos are picky about where they live based on the type of soil in the area. Most often, armadillos prefer sandy or loam soils that are loose and porous. This makes digging for food and creating burrows much easier.
All armadillos live in Central and South America except for one special species. The nine-banded armadillo presently ranges from Argentina to the southern United States. This is according to the Animal Diversity Web (ADW) at the University of Michigan. Since the mid-19th century, nine-banded armadillos have impressively 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. According to National Geographic, they usually sleep up to 16 hours each day in caves. 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 together in a burrow to share body heat. Sometimes, a seven-banded armadillo will share its burrow with others of the same gender.
Armadillos are omnivores, which means they eat meat and plants. However, 90 percent of an armadillo’s diet comprises 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 Felidae family member and 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 rounded heads 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, 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 an exceptionally high density. In Torres del Paine, males, and females have overlapping home ranges of up to 40 square miles—a great part of Wildlife in Chile.
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 large and small animals, including birds such as lesser rheas and upland geese, small mammals such as rodents and hares, deer, and occasionally domestic livestock. The puma’s favorite prey is guanacos, and being ambush predators, they stalk their victims before springing with a mighty leap and securing their meal with a fatal bite to the neck. Though pumas hunt alone, they have been recorded sharing kills.
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 kitten’s nurse for three months, steadily growing in size as they incorporate meat into their diet. By eight 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 home ranges–male juveniles typically depart before females.
A loss of prey threatens pumas in Patagonia as agricultural developments infringe on their habitat. As the guanaco’s population decreases from competing for grass with introduced livestock, pumas resort to hunting the sheep of ranchers. Pumas are often poached as a backlash for killing domestic animals. This has provoked people to create initiatives to mitigate human-puma conflict and promote co-existence between humans and 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 government and local businesses enforce the importance of preserving critical puma habitat 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 comprises thick hairs that are light to grey-brown and white underneath.
Taruca is known to live in groups of up to seven, which include males, females, and fawns. The taruca herd social structure is unique compared to different South American deer species, as a female adult leads it. They breed between June and August, giving birth to one 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 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 8,200 ft-10,000 ft (2,500m-3,000m). Their habitats typically include rocky areas of sparse vegetation, such as sub-alpine meadows and tundra. This explains the sandy gray coloring of their coat, which provides excellent camouflage in this 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 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 agricultural pests. 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.
Summary of Wildlife in Chile
Lastly, I hope you enjoyed reading and learning 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 you’re particularly interested in reading about! Otherwise, why not look at our other blogs, like Wildlife in England or Wildlife in Colorado?
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And Beyond the Wild Side of Chile
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