Threatened iconic deer in Chile on the way back to recovery

April 16, 2013 at 6:50 PM
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SANTIAGO, Chile, April 16 (UPI) -- Conservationists say a resurgence of Chile's iconic but endangered Huemul deer represents a victory for environmentalists and the Chilean government.

Huemul deer, a national symbol for Chile that appears on the country's coat of arms, are returning to areas of their natural Patagonian habitats from which they had completely disappeared, researchers from Britain's University of Cambridge reported Tuesday.

A study by Cambridge, the Wildlife Conservation Society and CONAF, the Chilean national forestry commission, found controlling the spread of cattle farming and ongoing efforts to reduce poaching led to a resurgence of the deer in the Bernardo O'Higgins National Park, covering more than 8 million acres at the southern tip of the South American continent.

A naturally tame and approachable animal, Huemul have been easy prey for hunters, and that combined with habitat loss had seen deer numbers plummet to just 2,500 left in the wild.

But the new conservation effort in the last decade has seen the Huemul population in the national park not only stabilize but begin to increase, conservationists said.

Deer have been returning from the hostile mountain areas where they had sought refuge to the sea-level valleys where they naturally thrive, they said.

"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," study co-author Cristobal Briceno of Cambridge said.

"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 threatened Huemul."

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