Chile, stretching from Antarctic waters in the south to the Atacama Desert in the north, contains some of the most varied and interesting terrain on Earth. In the 1990s Douglas and Kristine Tompkins began developing large-scale conservation projects in Chilean Patagonia, recognizing the region’s exceptional beauty and conservation potential. In the decades since, Tompkins Conservation Chile has helped create seven new national parks and expand three others, propelling the vision of the Route of Parks of Patagonia, and has led rewilding efforts to protect endangered species such as the huemul deer.
National parks are the most durable way to protect wildlife habitat and help people reconnect with nature. Parks provide indispensable ecological and social values, and are globally proven economic drivers for local communities. They highlight the best a country has to show the world—scenic beauty, abundant wildlife, recreation opportunities, and noteworthy cultural sites.
Protecting wildlife, and, where necessary, actively reintroducing missing species is a crucial complement to parklands conservation. Tompkins Conservation is a global leader in rewilding efforts that seek to reassemble beautiful, vibrant ecosystems. Since 2005 our team has worked to monitor and protect iconic species in Chilean Patagonia including the huemul, puma, Darwin’s rhea, Andean cóndor, vizcacha, Geoffroy's cat, and pampas cat.
Fewer than 2,000 huemul deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus) remain worldwide, with approximately 10 percent of the global population residing in Patagonia National Park. An iconic animal that is featured on Chile’s national shield, the huemul or South Andean deer requires intensive monitoring and protection to avoid extinction. Tompkins Conservation Chile is expanding our huemul conservation efforts more broadly within the species’ native range, to reestablish vital wildlife corridors and reduce threats to this emblematic endangered species.
As top predators, pumas (Puma concolor) are vitally important to ecosystem health, and like top predators elsewhere, these big cats have been persecuted throughout Patagonia by ranchers who considered them a threat to livestock. Since 2008 our team has been tracking and monitoring pumas with satellite collars to understand their habitat selection, movements, and predation patterns. That research has shown that a protected and growing population of pumas is not negatively affecting the imperiled population of huemul deer in Patagonia National Park. We have developed and introduced livestock management strategies to prevent predator and livestock conflicts, including the use of guard dogs, and are generating information about puma behavior within the context of growing tourist visitation.
Darwin’s rheas (Rhea pennata pennata), colloquially known as “Ñandú,” are native to Patagonia’s
steppe grasslands. These ostrich-like birds are considered endangered in Chile as a result of hunting,
largely for their feathers and eggs; nest destruction and habitat loss have also affected reproductive
success. Through a captive breeding effort begun in 2015, when less than 20 individual rheas occupied the
grasslands of the Chacabuco Valley, our Wildlife Program team at Patagonia National Park is working to
augment and expand that relict population with good success. By 2020 almost 60 rheas inhabited the eastern
sector of the park and their distribution area has expanded by more than 30 percent.
One of the largest and longest-living birds on Earth, the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is a symbol of power, health, and liberty for the people of Patagonia. Andean condors are impressive in size, as tall as 1.2 meters and with one of the largest wingspans in the world, measuring as much as 3 meters. Historically, guanacos were the primary food source for condors in Patagonia. As natural grassland habitat has been converted into ranches, guanacos have become more scarce. As part of an ongoing effort, our Wildlife Program team periodically releases rehabilitated condors into Patagonia National Park. As grasslands recover and guanaco numbers rebound, we hope to see more Andean condors surviving through adulthood in Patagonia.
In addition to helping create national parks and restoring wildlife, Tompkins Conservation promotes initiatives that seek to advance a culture of conservation across society, inspiring connection between people and the natural world. We believe that conservation will not be successful over the long term unless communities are authentically involved.
We know that conservation is most successful when people are engaged and communities are empowered. Through the active engagement and support of park gateway communities, we aim to establish tangible models of nature-based tourism helping drive regional economic diversification and benefit local people. We seek to build vibrant communities where people understand the sense of belonging and local identity that a deep connection with nature can provide.
Tompkins Conservation Chile helped conceive and promote the Route of Parks of Chilean Patagonia vision, in which ecotourism helps promote local economic vitality, cultural and historical traditions, and ecological health across the region. A scenic route stretching 1,700 miles (2,800 kilometers) between Puerto Montt and Cape Horn, and encompassing 17 national parks and more than 60 gateway communities, the route includes more than 90 percent of Chile’s territory protected under the category of national park, an area equivalent to almost three times the size of Switzerland.
“Amigos de los Parques” (“Friends of the Parks”), a nonprofit started by Tompkins Conservation Chile, has been working with local communities since 2018 to promote a culture of national parks and environmental philanthropy in Chile, and to help people connect with their country’s natural treasures. Amigos de los Parques believes that a robust system of national parks is the best way to preserve Chile’s natural heritage and guarantee public access to parklands. A citizenry sensitized to these attributes, and a State that guarantees proper management of these national assets, which may include public-private collaboration, is the best way to elevate a culture of national park conservation in Chile.
Tompkins Conservation Chile and the Chilean Parks Agency, CONAF, have signed a collaboration agreement to work jointly in developing zoning and management plans covering architectural standards and wildlife conservation in the parks we donated. Tompkins Conservation will collaborate with the State through a technical panel for 10 years, supporting the transition period. Ultimately we hope that the new parks and the ongoing technical collaboration will contribute to the improvement of parklands management throughout Chile.
Tompkins Conservation implements its projects through a nonprofit network including Tompkins Conservation Chile and Rewilding Argentina.
In ways large and small, as individuals and groups, we have the power to reorient the trajectory of life on Earth toward beauty, diversity, wildness, and health.