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.
The 6,925 hectares of the Tamango National Reserve, located six kilometers from Cochrane, are estimated to be the home for approximately 40 huemules, one of the largest concentrations of huemules in all of Patagonia. It’s a big area and a small number so there’s no guarantee that you’ll see them, but the Reserve is a beautiful place to explore and you MIGHT be graced with the luck of a sighting. You can enjoy a variety of activities during your visit, including boating and sport fishing in the Cochrane River and Lake, and exploring the trails of Cerros Tamango, Tamanguito and Húngaro.
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.
Exploring the Reserve
There are hiking trails that follow the river, others that wind up the mountains, and our favorite choice; an excursion that combines boating and hiking, giving you a complete perspective of the diversity in this area. The boat descends the river to Cochrane Lake, taking you through crystal clear, turquoise blue waters, bordered by the native forest of the Reserve, and with a bit of luck, you may see a Huemul or two drinking water along the shore. Have your camera ready!
When you pass by the “Las Correntadas” sector, you have several options. The first is to disembark, take a short walk around and then re-board for the return trip. The second option is to return to the Visitor Center area of the reserve along a trail (3.5 km) that follows the banks of the river, providing spectacular views. At times it meanders through the forest winding up and down the rocky terrain, but it is an easy and well-marked trail. The third alternative is a more intense circuit. You’ll re-board the boat after walking around the rapids of Las Correntadas and continue down-river to the “Playa Paleta” sector of Cochrane Lake. Here, you’ll find camping and a great beach for fishing or enjoying the sun. The hike back is 11 km, with a steep incline in the first section that levels off toward the end.