It’s fall here, the leaves are shimmery red and gold, and the high season for getting work done in Patagonia is just about over. We’re leaving Valle Chacabuco to drive two days north to Pumalin. It’s nearing lunchtime and we’re pressed to get on the road. I’m exasperated with my husband, Doug, for not being ready to go, but when I turn around to see what’s holding him up I laugh out loud – there he is flapping his arms and running across the recently seeded front lawn of the new guest house trying to herd 50-some guanacos off our hard-fought-for grass. They look back over their shoulders lazily at Doug, bat their long eyelashes, and pay little attention to his “heps” and “yahs,” taking a few more bites off this rare, tender grass before slowly moving off. Standing off just a few meters away from the fence they’ve trampled, we know they’ll be back there grazing before our car turns the corner and disappears. Of all of the obstacles, hardships, controversy and complications that come with creating a new national park in Patagonia, this is one we hadn’t counted on and, truth be told, all of our bluster and long list of failed strategies for keeping the guanacos out is overshadowed by our joy and happiness at having them so protected, so healthy… so close.
Like most species within the Patagonia region, the emblematic guanaco populations are down to roughly 10 percent of their original numbers. They’ve been hunted for meat and fur, and systematically pushed out of nearly all of their original grazing lands as room was made for the millions of sheep and cattle brought onto the land during the 1800s.