Humuel Deer Population Resurges From Near Extinction
April 16, 2013

Patagonia’s Huemul Deer Rebounds From Brink Of Extinction

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Researchers are reporting some rare good news in the world of animal conservation. Scientists from Cambridge University, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Chilean National Forestry Commission (CONAF) say the endangered Huemul deer, native to Patagonia, is bouncing back from the brink of extinction.

The Huemul is only found in the Latin American region, and the new report says the deer is experiencing a resurgence thanks to a collaboration between conservationists and the Chilean government. Researchers say the findings are an example of successful collaboration between local governments and scientists leading to real conservation success. They also say this could be a possible model for future efforts to maintain the region´s biodiversity.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Huemul deer have suffered reductions of 99 percent in their population since the 19th century. Scientists believe 50 percent of this decline has come in recent years, and only about 2,500 deer are left in the wild. The deer species is a naturally tame and approachable animal, making it easy prey for hunters. An increase in local cattle farming into national parkland has also damaged the habitats of  native wildlife like the Huemul.

In order to help save the dwindling population of animals, conservationists and researchers created a small number of field stations in Patagonia, which is one of the least populated areas of the world. These stations served as a base for monitoring the species and natural habitats as well as helping park rangers enforce the conservation laws that had never been enforced on the ground.

In just five years, the Huemul population in the national park began to increase, with deer coming down from the hostile mountain areas where they had previously sought refuge and back to the sea-level valleys where it thrives naturally.

"National parks are at the heart of modern conservation, but there has to be an investment in management and protection on the ground. You can't just have a 'paper park', where an area is ring-fenced on a map but physically ignored," said Cristóbal Briceño, a researcher from Cambridge's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, who co-authored the study.

"Our results suggest that synergistic conservation actions, such as cattle removal and poaching control, brought about by increased infrastructure, can lead to the recovery of species such as the threated Huemul [sic]."

Briceño said the scattering of endangered species as habitats are encroached upon creates external threats and also limits mating diversity. This leads to levels of inbreeding that can reach "a critical extent from which there's no return."

"I think it's beautiful that this has turned out to be an example of real hope for an endangered species, an example we would like to replicate," Briceño said.

Another set of good news on the endangered animal front came out in August of last year, when researchers reported bowhead whales may also be experiencing a resurgence. In this study, scientists recorded a chorus of bowhead whales off the coast of Greenland. The report said there could've been as many as 100 whales that passed through these waters during the study period.