Chile

Tierra del Fuego Video
Established in 2004 through a gift from the global investment bank Goldman Sachs, the Karukinka reserve in Tierra Del Fuego represents a major investment in the conservation of patagonia’s ecology and species.
©WCS
Tierra Del Fuego Photo
©Kent Redford
Guanaco in Tierra del Fuego Photo
WCS is studying how guanacos adapt to seasonal changes in Tierra del Fuego, as well as how livestock grazing and other human activities affect them.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
A Trip to the Southern Tip of the World Slideshow
Sailing the islands of Tierra del Fuego, WCS staff encounter rare albatrosses, penguins, seals & more. While humans may shy away from this lonely, windswept place, wildlife populations clearly do not.
Canaux Australis Photo
In December 2010, a WCS expedition crossed rough and icy seas to survey seal and bird populations on the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, which forms the windswept tip of South America.
©WCS
Penguins Photo
The conservationists came across more than 100 southern rockhopper penguins. Further east on Argentina’s Falkland Islands, this species has declined 90 percent in the last 70 years.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Glacier Photo
A leopard seal naps on an ice floe in front of a glacier in Parry’s Fjord. Antarctica is the usual home for these penguin-loving seals.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Seal Mattress Photo
A southern elephant seal gets comfortable on a “mattress of its own kind” on a beach off Jackson Bay on the Karukinka Coast. 
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Cliff Hanger Photo
WCS researchers Alejandro Vila and Jorge Acevedo scale a cliff over frigid whitecaps to reach a nesting colony of black-browed albatrosses.
Ricardo Matus
Bird Head Photo
The smallest colony of black-browed albatross lives within Admiralty Sound. This group of only 48 nesting pairs is also this bird’s only landlocked colony on record.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Man & Bird Photo
The conservationists checked the health of the adult black-browed albatrosses, and placed identification bands on their legs. They also marked all of the birds’ nests during the survey.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Grey headed albatross Photo
A grey-headed albatross gave the researchers a pleasant surprise, since this rare species has never been recorded in the Chilean channels.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Team Seal Photo
The expedition team named the first male elephant seal they tagged “Koy,” which means “sea” in the language of the Selk’nam, the now extinct native people of Patagonia. Researchers affixed satellite tags on seals in order to track their movement patterns.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Seal Tag Photo
A juvenile, female elephant seal, like this one here, once swam more than 5,000 miles in 228 days. Her journey illustrates why WCS conservationists are working across the Patagonian seascape to ensure the safety of these animals throughout their travels.
Alejandro Vila/WCS

Long, narrow and for the most part high, Chile serves as the spine of South America, stretching from the northern Andes to the sub-Antarctic, windswept coastline of Tierra del Fuego. Both the western (Chilean) and eastern (Argentine) portions of Tierra del Fuego are home to large stands of old-growth deciduous lenga forests, peat bogs, Andean meadows, river systems, fjords, glaciers and spectacular snow-capped mountains. Near Tierra del Fuego is the country’s spectacular Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, one of the largest protected areas in South America.

Elsewhere in Chile are miles of pristine shores that support huge colonies of rockhopper and Magellanic penguins, elephant seals and sea lions; wide, open grasslands with guanacos—a wild relative of the llama—as well as armadillos, rheas, culpeo foxes and opossums; altiplano salt pans shimmering pink with thousands of flamingos; and the towering wilderness of the high Andes.

Fast Facts

  • Tierra del Fuego holds the world’s largest intact stands of sub-Antarctic forests
  • A portion of these forests are under protection, thanks in part to the financial company Goldman Sachs’s gift of 680,000 acres of wild lands in Chilean Tierra del Fuego to WCS
  • The name “Tierra del Fuego” or “Land of Fire” was given to the island by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520; however, the Selk’nam indigenous people who originally lived there called their land “Karukinka”
  • The largest wild population of guanacos lives in Tierra del Fuego

Challenges

Significant portions of the Chilean wilderness have been given legal protection, particularly in the southernmost region, Magallanes. But broad collaboration among numerous stakeholders—governments, local people, and industries—is required to transform those parks into effective conservation areas. Karukinka, a model for creating successful partnerships to promote conservation, can serve as a roadmap.

Chile’s people have historically relied heavily on natural resources for their subsistence. Exotic plantations, logging, livestock grazing, hunting, commercial fishing, and mining are some of the human activities that have affected and continue to threaten wildlife and wild lands in the region. The remnant herds of guanacos suffer from habitat loss and competition from livestock. Their migration has become one of the most endangered natural phenomena in Latin America.

Over the last century, exotic species have dramatically altered Tierra del Fuego’s terrestrial and freshwater environments. Introduced beaver populations have expanded rapidly in the absence of top predators, causing extensive damage to forests and altering natural water flows. Sheep, cattle, and rabbits compete with native herbivores and may transmit diseases to guanacos. Feral minks may be killing large numbers of native ground-nesting birds. In the Patagonian steppe and Andean environments of Argentina and Chile, native wildlife is intensively hunted and habitats have been long affected by livestock overgrazing, habitat degradation, introduced species, and logging.

WCS Responds

The establishment of the Karukinka reserve is a major accomplishment for the conservation of Patagonia as a whole, establishing a model for combating invasive species, protecting unique terrestrial and marine landscapes, and running successful private-public partnerships. WCS has also devised plans to build trails and visitors’ centers and promote ecotourism in southern Tierra del Fuego. This will make a wider audience passionate about conserving Karukinka and the surrounding land, as well as provide economic alternatives to local residents, who can develop sustainable businesses around our conservation work. Local residents have become involved with WCS through successful education programs, and are now active partners in the efforts to preserve Karukinka and promote conservation activities in Chilean Patagonia.

Karukinka’s 290 square miles of peat lands, surrounded by water, are among its most valuable ecosystems for their ability to trap greenhouse gases, and for the fresh water they provide to the island’s human and wildlife residents. WCS is currently working to document how much carbon the peat keeps out of our atmosphere, which threats it faces, and how we can take steps to preserve it. In the near term, WCS is working to sell carbon offset credits generated from the protection of the peat bogs. Introducing funds from the global carbon market to Karukinka can provide long-term, sustainable funding to conserve and protect these precious lands.

WCS researchers are studying how guanacos adapt to seasonal changes in the landscape and how livestock grazing and other human impacts outside Karukinka reserve affect them. Our work will illuminate key factors that affect guanaco distribution, abundance, and social composition, as well as those that show migratory patterns.

WCS Projects

Karukinka’s Carbon Markets

While peat lands represent a tiny portion of the earth compared to forests, they store double the amount of carbon. WCS is working to safeguard the peat bogs of Chile's Karukinka, and to sell carbon offsets to help guarantee their preservation.

From the Newsroom

Directions to KarukinkaApril 20, 2012

WCS President and CEO Dr. Steven E. Sanderson recounts his recent expedition to one of the greatest wild places left on Earth: Karukinka, Chile. The trip was part of an effort to preserve this landscape and make it sustainable for generations to come.

WCS and Government of Chile Sign Sweeping Conservation AgreementApril 11, 2012

Karukinka Makes Way for HikersApril 5, 2012

WCS and the Government of Chile collaborate on a new trekking trail on the island of Tierra del Fuego. The trail is intended to attract ecotourists to the Karukinka reserve, a national treasure largely untouched by the human footprint.

Expedition to Tierra del Fuego’s Admiralty SoundFebruary 29, 2012

WCS conservationists Alejandro Vila, Marcela Uhart and Daniela Droguett chronicle their latest journey to the remote lands and seascape at the tip of South America.

Chile Reels in Salmon FarmingAugust 24, 2011

WCS applauds Chile’s efforts to protect Patagonia’s waters from the salmon industry. But there are many other fish farms in its seas.

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