Guanacos, the curious wild camelids of Patagonia

The strange shapes of the clouds betray the strong wind blowing up there. They are lenticular clouds that resemble imagined UFOs. The sun is about to disappear over the horizon. With the last lights, a group of guanacos graze under towering granite mountains.

The wind is constant, fierce. There are days when it is unbearable. During the austral summer powerful gusts of wind sweep across Patagonia from the Pacific Ocean. On infinite plains and lost mountains lives our protagonist of today.

Glaciers of dozens of kilometers are part of the southern Ice Field. Other minors hang down the vertical of the mountains

The guanaco (lama guanacoe) It is a wild camelid that lives in mountainous and steppe areas of South America. They do not have a hump and do not look so much like camels, but they belong to the same family. Guanacos mainly eat grass. Also from buds, branches and mosses. These herbivores move in family groups consisting of a male and several females accompanied by their young.

Guanaco pups. (Andoni Canela)

The hatchlings, called chulengos, are born in summer and less than a third survive the first year. In this part of Patagonia the guanacos They are the preferred prey of the puma, especially the chulengos up to three months. When danger lurks, guanacos emit a kind of alert whine. This alarm signal alerts the rest of the herd of the proximity of the pumas.

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I am near the National Park Torres del Paine. Located south of Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine is a place full of lakes, uniquely shaped mountains and glaciers. This protected area is also a Biosphere Reserve. It is located in lthe Magallanes region and Chilean Antarctica. Among innumerable peaks, the Cuernos and Torres del Paine stand out, unmistakable peaks that they rise above 3,000 meters in height.

Guanaco adult. (Andoni Canela)

Apart from glaciers and mountains, here the Patagonian steppe: an infinite expanse of grasslands and scrubland with limited native forests. Forests of ñires and lengas take refuge in ravines and in areas of steep slopes.

The green landscape of the Patagonian summer contrasts with the many lakes in this area. They are lakes of glacial origin of an intense turquoise blue color. Looking towards the andes you always see a line of high mountains and steep peaks. There are glaciers tens of kilometers long that are part of the Southern Ice Field. Other smaller ones hang almost vertically from the mountains.

Silhouette of a guanaco silhouetted against the sky. (Andoni Canela)

One very cold morning I see fly a group of condors. The light is clear and the wind cuts like a knife. On the branches of a dry beech tree there a couple of caracaras, also called caranchos, birds of prey that belong to the falcon family. On the flattest and most open terrain, I observe geese and teros. These birds are very common in these places and usually go in pairs or in small groups.

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The teros have a kind of cry of alarm that they repeat incessantly. Its strident sounds are the most common from Patagonia and from the pampas. In the most wooded areas it inhabits the huemul, an endangered deer which has less than a thousand copies.

Guanacos in combat. (Andoni Canela)

A few hundred meters from where I am sitting, a kind of armadillo (called here quirquincho) moves slowly. His skin reminds me of armor from the Middle Ages. Before night falls, as I listen to the great tucúquere (Magellanic owl) I’m with a chingue, a kind of skunk with a contrasting black and white fur. This is how the field days are in this remote and beautiful place on the planet.

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