Huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus)

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Adult male huemul with velvet peeling off antlers
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Huemul fact file

Huemul description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyCervidae
GenusHippocamelus (1)

This deer species has an odd stance; the legs are very short and the hind legs appear bent. The huemul has coarse, brown fur that is short and dark in summer, but will lengthen and lighten to protect them from wind-chill temperatures of up to minus 50 degree Celsius during the winter. It has a large black nose, small eyes, and large ears lined with white fur. Males are larger than females and have branching antlers that grow up to 35 centimetres before being shed each year (2).

Also known as
Chilean guemal, Chilean huemul, Patagonian Huemul., South Andean deer, South Andean huemul.
French
Cerf Des Andes Méridionales, Huémul Des Andes Méridionales.
Spanish
Ciervo Andino Meridional, Huemul, Huemul Patagónico.
Size
Male head-body length: 140 – 175 cm (2)
Female head-body length: 140 – 157 cm (2)
Height: 80 – 90 cm (2)
Weight
40 – 100 kg (3)
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Huemul biology

Groups of huemul used to number up to ten individuals, but it is now rare to see more than five together (2). Huemul inhabit large home ranges up to several hundred hectares and in some areas huemul move to lower altitudes in winter, probably to avoid exposure and deep snow (6). During the mating season, males will mate with any receptive female, checking her urine for pheromones that indicate her readiness. Males approach females, courting them with display postures and then dip their lower lip in their urine, tilting their head back to ‘taste’ the pheromones on the Jacobson’s organ in the mouth. Females give birth to a single fawn after a 200 to 220 day gestation period and the fawn is then hidden from predators and group members for up to month until it has gained strength. Weaning takes place at around five months old (2).

The huemul has a four-chambered stomach and feeds on many different plant species (2). It is usually a silent species but will occasionally snort, grunt and whine (2) (3).

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Huemul range

Huemul are endemic to southern Argentina and Chile. Historical records suggest that huemul were once found in a wide band along the southern Andes as well as southern Patagonia, but now their distribution is fragmented and limited to more remote parts of the southern Andes (3).

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Huemul habitat

Found on the rugged terrain and steep slopes of the Andes, the huemul inhabits forest and areas of open shrub cover (2) (3).

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Huemul status

The huemul is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (4). It is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (5).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Huemul threats

Huemul were previously hunted by Native American Indians, but rarely and mainly for their skins, as they are much smaller and less abundant than the guanaco (Lama guanicoe), the only other native ungulate in the region (2) (3). Poaching is still a major threat to this species even though hunting is now illegal. Other threats include predation by pumas, foxes and domestic dogs, habitat destruction, fires and livestock ranching. Locally, over-grazing, construction, and recreational activities may prove detrimental to the huemul (2) (3). In addition, large areas of forest have been harvested and replaced by agriculture and exotic tree forestry operations (2), resulting in huemul populations becoming isolated and therefore more vulnerable to local extinction (6).

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Huemul conservation

An estimated 1000 to 2000 individuals survive today (2006) and this number is thought to be declining (3) (7). Several projects are in progress, surveying the range and population of the huemul. Two large non-governmental organisations in Argentina and Chile are working together to survey the border areas that are home to this species; however, this is difficult due to the rugged terrain of the region (2).

The huemul has been protected in Chile since 1929 and has since been adopted as the national symbol (2). It is found in several national parks, but poaching still occurs within these areas and public education is necessary to improve the chances of survival of the huemul (8). There have been many attempts to keep and breed this species in captivity, but this is also proving difficult and has been hampered by poaching (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the Huemul see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (10/04/08) by Dr. Robin Gill, Wildlife Ecologist, Forest Research.
http://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/website/forestresearch.nsf/ByUnique/INFD-6CJF8S

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Gestation
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Herbivores
Animals which consume only vegetable matter.
Jacobson’s organ
An organ located in the roof of the mouth in many vertebrates (animals with a backbone) that can detect certain chemicals. Also known as the vomeronasal organ.
Pheromone
A chemical produced by an animal, which stimulates a behavioural or physiological response by another member of the same species.
Ungulate
A hoofed, grazing mammal.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Diaz, N.I. and Smith-Flueck, J.A. (2000) A Mysterious Deer on the Brink of Extinction. L.O.L.A., Argentina.
  3. Gill, R. (2008) Pers. comm.
  4. CITES (June, 2005)
    http://www.cites.org
  5. Global Register of Migratory Species (April, 2008)
    http://www.groms.de/
  6. Gill, R., Saucedo Galvez, C., Aldridge, D. and Morgan, G. (2008) Ranging behaviour of huemul in relation to habitat and landscape. Journal of Zoology, 274: 254 - 260.
  7. Vila, A.R., López, R., Pastore, H., Faúndez, R. and Serret, A. (2006) Current distribution and conservation of the huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) in Argentina and Chile. Mastozoología Neotropical, 13(2): 263 - 269. Available at:
    http://www.cricyt.edu.ar/mn/indice/pdf/13_2/vila.pdf
  8. Saucedo, C. and Gill, R. (2004) Huemul (Hippocamelusbisulcus) ecology research: conservation planning in Chilean Patagonia. Deer Specialist Group News, 19: 13 - 15.
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Image credit

Adult male huemul with velvet peeling off antlers  
Adult male huemul with velvet peeling off antlers

© Simon Littlejohn

Simon Littlejohn
simonlj@wildaslife.com
http://www.wildaslife.com

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