Torres del Paine National Park is the “Yellowstone of Chile”. In some ways it is even more spectacular with its mountains, glaciers, grassland, and unique animals. Not unlike our national parks in the US, the park contains sensitive ecosystems subject to abuse. And like our parks, there is inadequate funding for maintenance and restoration when damaged.
Several devastating fires have damaged the park. Its ecosystems are not “fire adapted” so they don’t bounce back easily. Over millennia there were no natural fire ignition sources such as lightning so the system did not evolve with fire resistance or resilience. Native Americans did not frequent this area. It wasn’t until Europeans entered the picture that fire was introduced with devastating effect. The Antarctic beech, not a fire species, has a tough time recovering on its own. Park managers are trying to figure out how to help it along. My forestry colleagues and I, 3 Chileans, one American (me), and an Israeli (photo) toured reforestation attempts around the park and offered recommendations.
There were guanacos everywhere. It is the only llama species of four in S. America that has not been domesticated. Like the African zebra, it has a “wild” gene that seemingly cannot be tamed. On our tour, the lead truck, about a tenth of a mile in front of mine, encountered a puma and her cubs next to the road with a dead guanaco; unfortunately, I did not get a look at them as they scurried into the brush before our truck approached. The southern S. American puma (Puma concolor puma) is a subspecies of our own N. American mountain lion.
It was hard for me to concentrate on business given the visual stimulation from the natural beauty surrounding me.