He is dedicated to saving a species of which only 500 specimens remain

The first time Miguel Escobar saw Huemul he felt something truly special, which even today he cannot define in precise words. Something that he says won’t go away Don’t feel like it’s in danger of extinction every time you get close to this mysterious animal from Patagonia, “There is an energetic transmission, it is a living being that is not afraid of you, that sees you as an equal and that you can make eye contact with; They are moments in which you share the world with another living being that radiates peace and transcendence.“, he says, and sentences: “It doesn’t seem very wise to lose it,

Miguel says, “On a personal level, I do it because it has created a kind of spiritual community, connection in me. That has never happened to me.”Courtesy: Miguel Escobar

He came to this conclusion after traveling and wandering around the Patagonian lands, which is his place in the world. before reaching upper senguer river To meet Huemul and form an NGO that has the only recovery and reintroduction center for this species, Miguel was cultivating an environmental awareness rooted in a deep love for his land., Born and raised in Diadema Argentina, a town near Comodoro Rivadavia “invented” by the Shell company, the son of an Argentine father and a Chilean mother, Miguel spent his childhood on the farm of his grandfather Lucio, where there was a traditional oil well.

There it experienced a transition from conventional production to a secondary recovery system, which caused significant damage to the environment. The disruption was complete. ,All the places where I spent my childhood were destroyed by machines, Whenever a well was drilled, leaving pools of oil aside, birds began dying at an alarming rate. “It was a scam.”

Frustrated, he decided to move to the city of Sarmiento, in Chubut, on the shores of Lakes Huapi and Mustares, where he worked as a teacher for 15 years. By 2010, destiny knocked at his door. ,This story came to me“, summarizes. At that time, Miguel worked for the National University of Patagonia, where he had completed a degree in tourism. The municipality of Alto Río Sanguer hired him as a photographer to create a file “Which would be used to create brochures of the Patagonian landscape.”There I learned that the mayor wanted to create a reserve in the Fontana Lake area to protect the Huemul.“, Memorization.

“We can’t lose it: it’s as Patagonian as we are,” says Miguel.

Despite his status as a Patagonian, he never had much connection to the problems of this endangered species. ,Fate gave me in 2013 the lakes Fontana and La Plata to help me create this park, which is named ‘Shunem’, which means Huemul in the Aonicenque language.“, explaining. “According to the researchers, there was a large population of Humulases in this area,” he cautioned.

Miguel began to walk around the area to be able to survey the animals. “We walked a lot, but there was no point….” I couldn’t see it: it’s a very hard figure“, he says laughing.

Meanwhile, I was slowly learning the full history of this beast that had been called the “Ghost of Patagonia.” ,Huemul was always a mystery“, summarizes. “It is one of the two native deer of Patagonia, along with the pudu; it inhabits forests and the transition zone with the steppe. The first explorers of this unknown land found it there”, he revealed.

A specimen of Huemul on the shores of Lake Fontana, where they are commonly seen during the winter.Courtesy: Miguel Escobar

The Huemul did not suffer any problems from contemporary conquest and the presence of farms, but they were hunted by the Tehuelches and Cañoras, the nomadic groups already living in the area. They used their skins for clothes,

“The huemul has an approach that is a little closer to tame, unlike other deer that avoid human presence,” explains Miguel. “Humul remains calm, he does not register the person as a threat. You can get as close as four or five meters range, This attitude didn’t make it just another animal,” he says, enthralled.

On an excursion to Torres del Paine, accompanied by other researchers, he was finally able to get close to a specimen. ,I was lucky enough to share a few hours“, account. From then on his life took a new turn. He could no longer ignore what he calls “the humul question”: “There is a different spirituality felt and you have to commit to it,

Miguel is exploring the Patagonian forests.

This universe of sensations, which could not be postponed, was realized in the creation of a foundation, which he called Shunem, whose main purpose was to answer a fundamental question: Why does Humul die? “We’ve got two major characters in this story, Werner Flueck (Swiss researcher) and Jo-Anne Smith (American researcher), who studied the Huemul world. Until then, he says, it was a whole sea of ​​myths: that dogs attack it, poaching, competition from red deer. Nothing has been assured, nor has it been proven.,

The investigation was hampered by permission from the Wildlife Directorate of Chubut Province. radio collar In some samples. A pioneering decision in the country. ,The first thing we discovered was the absence of teeth in young animals.Mainly browsers, which they use to uproot plants,” says Miguel.

Two hummus with radio collars, a technique that allowed them to reach some conclusions about the behavior of this endangered animal.Courtesy: Miguel Escobar

Then they noticed that there was a pattern of problems in the mouth and generalized osteomyelitis. The jaw was the most dramatic location with the transitions and canals.

There was a specimen, named “Toothless”, which they managed to follow for two years and which allowed them to glimpse a possible answer to the initial question. “After his death, we studied him and understood that he had lived a life full of pain, with terrible infections, sinusitis caused by a tube that affected his sense of smell, which was a key to survival. It’s an important feeling.”

for a longer time, Found that dental problems were evident in more than 50% of the animals they audited, “So we said: There’s a pattern here, a trick to explain the extinction.” The investigation pointed to the fragility of the environment in the mountain range, which lacks the nutrients necessary for the health of humules. The deficiency of minerals such as selenium, iodine, magnesium and copper affects their bone stability and reproductive capacity, representing a real threat to their survival.

“This is one of the big debates behind the humul issue,” warns Miguel. The Shunem Foundation considered that, based on these indicators, they were “in the presence of an animal taking shelter in the forest, This caused the shelf to shake. For the first time someone claimed that the Huemul was not originally a “forest animal”.

Miguel is a photographer and loves his land, Patagonia.

In fact, as part of the research for the book he co-wrote with Flueck and Smith, “El Huemul-Shunem, the Wood That Moves/Ray”, Miguel was introduced to the work done in this area by Hans Stephan, a German geographer. Came to know about. Who came to the country in 1902 to conduct a survey in the context of the border conflict between Argentina and Chile. “Stephen gives a description of the valleys, there he talks about humules, where he saw them, where he found footprints… And where did you find all this together? On the transition from steppe and forest. it was a great discoveryMiguel says.

,We concluded that what he lost was his cold and heat., and was stuck in his summer. You can’t go down because there are fields, hunting and dogs. It remains there, its offspring are born inside the forest and lose their migratory memory, just like guanacos and even domestic cattle do,” he explained. Although this idea has been discussed, for Miguel it is not accepted by the entire academic world.The best thing that can happen is to debate it, so that we keep the concern for Humul alive.,

With this diagnosis, they went for a more advanced idea and asked Fauna for authorization to do so. Confinement and semi-confinement centers, The idea was to create a generous space in the area to try to increase the population of humulase because the situation is really serious: It is estimated that there are 500 left in Argentina; in Chile, 1500,

Shunem worked together Temeiken Foundation And, together, they decided to replicate the idea of ​​a Chilean NGO that had managed to significantly increase the population of humulés in an area where they had become extinct.

The Shunem Center is the first of its kind in Argentina.Courtesy: Miguel Escobar

Thanks to a donation from the Erlenmeyer Foundation of Swiss origin, they began fencing 108 hectares of land donated by a private farm. They then continued building the center and finally in 2021 they launched it with a laboratory shed, housing for park rangers., and with an electrified wire to prevent pumas from attacking humules. “We brought back some specimens that were sick and some that were not going to start the reproductive cycle,” he says.Today we have five animals, two males and three females, and we have already had our first born (shehuen, which in Tehuelche means ‘source of light’), the first in semi-captivity.“, he adds.

Why is Humul worth saving? “It’s an umbrella species, What do other species in the forest and steppe zone depend on? Being a seed spreader, who softens the ground with his hooves,” he summarises. “On a personal level, I do this because of what has awakened within me, a kind of spiritual community, of relationship, This never happened to me. How could we be so stupid… We can’t lose it: it’s as much Patagonian as we are,” says Miguel, who until recently served as president of the Shunem Foundation and is now operations manager.

The Shunem Center is managed in conjunction with the Temeiken Foundation.Courtesy: Miguel Escobar

His life is entirely dedicated to saving Huemul. Now Miguel is focused on working with the Koske Foundation in Chile to care for the valleys connecting Lake La Plata to the Aysén region and Lake Cisne. “Farms are being bought to run other breeding centres, To take Huemul back to its original location and recover the balance they had.”, he continues.

“I am a fifth-generation Patagonian. Here you live in harmony with nature. When you start having such intimate losses, Expecting you to protest, It is a need for self-survival, even for our children, who will have fights. We have to be passionate about close topics and help collaboratively Because everything is going to be ruined. The weather has cleared. we do something or stop Happen, We’re doing something here,” he concluded.

At the Shunem Sanctuary, an area is being surveyed where about 60 humules are believed to live.

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