Huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus)

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
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyCervidae
GenusHippocamelus (1)
SizeMale head-body length: 140 – 175 cm (2)
Female head-body length: 140 – 157 cm (2)
Height: 80 – 90 cm (2)
Weight40 – 100 kg (3)

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).

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).

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).

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

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).

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).

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).

For further information on the Huemul see:

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

  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.