From Shepherd to Park Ranger in Patagonia

Daniel Velásquez
Holiday 2007

In the early ’30s, my father came to the Aysén region of Chile from the island of Chiloé looking for land and work. He met my mother in Valle Colonia, and I and 11 brothers were born in this stark and beautiful land on the edge of the northern ice cap in Patagonia.

Our family has always survived on the natural lands, forests, livestock, wildlife, rivers and isolation of the Aysén region. For these reasons, at age 12 I quit school to work in the farmlands to help my family.

As an adult I came to work in a beautiful place: the Estancia Valle Chacabuco, a huge ranch with over 150,000 acres and thousands of sheep and cattle. I was hired as an ovejero (shepherd) to take care of 5,000 sheep. Pumas, foxes and birds of prey were the main threats to the sheep. We frequently hunted these predators and were rewarded when we killed one. During those days, I sometimes worked as a leonero, tracking and killing pumas in the mountains.

As sheep ranching declined from overgrazing, I was again looking for work. And I apparently had the skills necessary to be a park ranger. In this job, I have had a lot of contact with people that I wouldn’t have met before. Through my contact with veterinarians and biologists, I began to understand the value of my knowledge of the land, and the value of conserving its plants and animals. I also began to understand the value of conserving the community and the way of life that people have made here.

Today, my family and I are proud to work toward what will one day become Patagonia National Park. We are working hard to achieve this difficult goal. I am in charge of monitoring and protecting native species of the area, many that we used to hunt in the past and others that we took no notice of. Especially important in the area of the park where I work, I can identify each huemul individual, a critically endangered deer of Patagonia.

I am very happy with this turn of events. It provides great satisfaction to learn more about the local wildlife, their behavior and their relationships in an intricate network in this wonderful land that I love.

In the near future, I would like to see my community of Cochrane (the neighboring town with 3,000 people) involved in protecting the wildlife of this new park, and to see a considerable increase in wildlife population numbers.

About the Author

Daniel Velásquez grew up south of Valle Chacabuco before moving there in early adulthood. As a shepherd he experienced firsthand the demise of sheep and cattle ranching. He couldn’t continue as a shepherd, yet he couldn’t leave this land that was in his blood. Instead, he learned a new profession: park ranger. This is his account.