Are There Camels in Patagonia?
Camels in the Americas? How crazy is that? Many millions of years ago, camelids (the camel family) were part of the fauna of North America. They existed and gradually evolved from tiny creatures the size of a domestic cat to animals the size of a goat...and eventually even much larger. The camels of North America survived until about 12,000 years ago when humans crossed the Bering land bridge into North America. In fact, theories suggest that humans were the reason for extinction of these animals in North America. However, before that took place, camelids spread into South America where they still exist today. The llama, alpaca and vicuna are quite familiar animals to many of us, but these species are not nearly as commonly known is the guanaco, found in the extreme southern tip of South America.
The guanaco is a lovely looking creature with very thick “weather-proofing“ hair of soft brown and white. Guanacos are fairly abundant in Torres del Paine National Park, so you are almost sure to see them during International Expeditions' Patagonia tours. Guanacos are usually found in small herds and are very alert animals. Herd animals are afforded greater protection from predators by having many more eyes to keep watch on the horizon. The guanaco’s most feared predator is the puma also known as the mountain lion.
Guanacos give birth every other year. This is due to a gestation of almost one year. Baby guanacos are known as chulengos. They are able to stand very shortly after birth and are then able to walk and run within hours of birth. A few other interesting adaptations allow guanacos to survive in a very windy and rocky region:
- Their padded feet that do very little to disturb the landscape and give the animal amazing traction
- Extremely long eye-lashes protect their eyes from wind and blowing sand and soil
- Guanacos have the ability to go without water for very long periods of time. In fact, guanacos can derive all of their moisture needs from the vegetation they consume, typical of all camelid species.
I've had the great pleasure of traveling throughout Patagonia many times during my years with International Expeditions. I always enjoyed observing guanacos as they are not only gorgeous creatures but they truly remind me of place. They are an iconic species of Patagonia, the end of the world at the southern tip of South America.
Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.