Area of the current Patagonia National Park Argentina:
Projected area of the final Patagonia Park Argentina:
Northeastern Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
Steppe with high mesas, big lakes, and glacial valleys
Important Conservation Attributes:
Representative examples of the mesa and canyon landscape of the Pinturas River region; populations of endangered rare and endemic species like the hooded grebe, the austral rail, Patagonian weasel; healthy populations of guanaco, puma, southern rhea and other large Patagonian vertebrates.
The Lake Buenos Aires Meseta, coasts of Lakes Buenos Aires and Pueyrredón, the scenic Provincial Route 41, known as the “Zeballos Highway”, passing through spectacular and diverse volcanic formations and Cave of the Hands Provincial Park, which features ancient rock paintings more than 9000 years old.
1.3 million metric tons
Patagonia Project Coordinator
Mauro was born and raised in Perito Moreno, in the Province of Santa Cruz. He is a born environmental activist, professionally trained in the art of photography and video production. For several years, he worked on permaculture and sustainable construction projects. From 2017, he has been part of the Patagonia Park Project of the Rewilding Argentina Foundation. He was actively involved in the development of public use infrastructure at the La Ascensión and Cañadón Pinturas Gateways and the biological station “El Unco”, along with a team of local workers which he has assembled over the years. He is currently the coordinator of the Patagonia Park project, carrying out the administration and organization of the gateways.
Coordinator of Rewilding for the Patagonia Project
Emanuel graduated from the National University of Misiones as a park guard. He started his involvement with the Rewilding Argentina Foundation in 2012 as a volunteer for the giant anteater reintroduction project in Rincón del Socorro, Iberá. In 2013, he began to work officially for the Foundation as a field assistant on the same project and in 2014, he was responsible for coordinating the projects to reintroduce giant anteaters, pampas deer, collared peccaries, and tapirs at Rincón del Socorro. In 2018 he moved to the province of Santa Cruz to oversee the projects of Rewilding in Patagonia Park, a position that he currently holds.
The existence of these two national parks, with identical names and which are encircled by the iconic Route 40 in Argentina and the Carretera Austral in Chile, and crossed by scenic byways such as Routes 41 and 43 in Argentina, has given this region in the northeast of Santa Cruz province an ideal opportunity to position itself as a first-class, binational tourist destination.
The international border crossings, located on the edge of the large Buenos Aires and Pueyrredón Lakes which span the border of Chile and Argentina, define a circuit of about 600 kilometers and covering a territory of over 12,000 square kilometers. Traveling this route allows one to experience and learn about the geology and ecology, the history and unique culture of this Province and of its neighboring region in Chile.
The region is unique, beautiful and rich in possibilities, but it is also very susceptible to extreme weather, climate change and the over-use of its soils. Currently, most of the inhabitants of Santa Cruz live in the towns. Although the economy of the province was historically based in sheep production, over the last decades many of the ranches have been down-sized or abandoned due to a number of volcanic eruptions and the resulting accumulation of ash, the decrease in productivity of the soil and grazing lands and the difficulty in finding capable workers willing to do the hard work of raising livestock in these rural areas. Other sources of employment, such as mining and fruit cultivation in northern Patagonia, are better paid and have disrupted the traditional economic make-up of the region.
This scenario has created the need to find a new economic model for this part of Santa Cruz. With the presence of Patagonia Park, an important and diverse part of the local population benefits from a new nature-based economy, or “nature-production”, by offering tourism-related services, working in conservation projects and wildlife management and through the development of new business ventures with a local brand.
Patagonia National Park was created with the vision of protecting a broad conservation corridor spanning the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds, including the largest of the Patagonia mesetas, as well as protecting endemic species of the region. The area, one of the last wild places of Patagonia, has the only meseta glacier in South America, along with high altitude lakes which harbor the largest known nesting colonies of the critically endangered hooded grebe.
Hundreds of petroglyphs are found on the Lake Buenos Aires meseta, created by ancestral peoples who hunted guanacos across these mesas and steppes. These depictions of landscape and the large herds of guanacos which defined this ancient culture, remain nearly intact. The eastern section of the park encompasses a representative section of the Río Pinturas canyon, including the Cave of Hands (Cueva de los Manos), a world heritage site of ancient rock art 9000 years old. The Buenos Aires and Pueyrredón lakes, part of whose shores are within park boundaries, complete the majestic landscapes of Patagonia National Park.
Towards the end of 2011, the National Park administration committed itself to the creation of a national park that would include the Lake Buenos Aires Meseta as a region of the Patagonia steppe that is important for its natural and cultural treasures. In March of 2013, the law that ceded jurisdiction of provincial lands to the State was approved and in December of 2014, the law for the creation of Patagonia National Park was passed.
Our vision is to unite this large protected area in Argentina with the Patagonia National Park in Chile, located just across the border, and to thus form a large binational park and nature tourism destination that would transcend human boundaries in pursuit of the conservation of the unique natural and cultural resources of greater Patagonia.
The threatened Hooded grebe nests on the high lagoons of the Buenos Aires Lake mesa, today protected by the Patagonia National Park. Photo: Hernán Povedano
The Patagonia steppe of Santa Cruz, now protected in part by Patagonia Park, was not immune to the reduction and even extinction of wildlife populations that have been seen in the rest of Argentina. The huemul and Southern river otter disappeared on the regional lever, while Wolffsohn’s vizcacha (also known as the Patagonia vizcacha), the coypu (a kind of nutria) and the Austral rail have suffered local extinctions, reduction in numbers and the fracturing of the connectivity between populations. Other species like the puma, the guanaco, the southern rhea and the Andean condor, the greatest symbols of the terrestrial fauna of Patagonia, have also suffered drastic reductions in their populations.
As a result, key ecological processes, such as predation and migration, have been altered with profound negative impacts on the ecosystem. In arid Patagonia, our goals include the reintroduction of species now absent from the landscape and to increase the numbers of the species that are still present but in reduced populations, with restoration of the natural ecological processes of the Patagonia steppe as the final objective.
El Unco Biological Station
The Pinturas Canyon is a unique environment of incomparable beauty and biodiversity. One of the outstanding features of the landscape are the iconic walls of rock that rise 300 meters above the Pinturas river, which has its headwaters on the Lake Buenos Aires Meseta and which brings life to every corner of the canyon.
However, many of the most emblematic species of this environment have disappeared or suffered a significant reduction in numbers at the hand of man. The reed marshes, islands of biodiversity in the arid steppe and home to hundreds of birds, have been greatly reduced in size and even disappeared from many areas of the canyon due to the presence of exotic plant species.
We are working to recover the splendor of these ecosystems and ensure that they function properly, via our innovative Rewilding project. Our team is based in El Unco Biological station within the park in order to study, understand and restore the original wildlife of the Patagonia steppe.
Camera traps are a crucial tool to learn about wildlife behavior. Cañadón Pinturas, Patagonia Park Argentina. Photo: Rafa Abuin
The species that we work with in Patagonia Park
Photo: Hernán Povedano
The puma (Puma concolor) is a large feline that is highly adaptable to different environments and prey, a characteristic that has made the puma the carnivore with the broadest distribution on the American continent. It can weigh up to 90 kilos and is an excellent ambush hunter. The principal prey in Patagonia is the guanaco.
The presence of the puma ensures the well-being and proper functioning of the ecosystem, as it regulates the number of herbivores and smaller carnivores, which has a positive impact on the flora and fauna of the region.
In the Pinturas Canyon, we are working to understand and place value on the ecological role of this great predator.
Photo: Hernán Povedano
The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) is a South American camelid and the main herbivore of Patagonia. It has diurnal habits and can weigh as much as 130 kilograms. During the summer, the guanaco forms small family groups made up of one relincho or male, several females and their young, called chulengos.
The guanaco played a critical role in the human occupation of the region, having shaped the culture of its original people for over nine thousand years. In winter, one can still see herds of hundreds of guanacos, despite the fact that populations have decreased significantly in the last decades.
We are working to restore the large, spectacular migrations of this species, as herds make the journey between summer grazing lands located in the mesetas and their winter range in the canyons.
Photo: Hernán Povedano
Along with the guanaco, the huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) is the other large herbivore of Patagonia. In the past, it inhabited the Patagonia steppe, including the Río Pinturas Canyon, where it was commonly found until the end of the 1800’s according to numerous explorers who traveled through this region.
Due to heavy hunting pressure, competition with livestock for grazing and the diseases introduced by domestic animals, the huemul was relegated to the least accessible areas of the Andean Cordillera, where barely 2000 individuals now survive in the south of Chile and Argentina.
The Rewilding Argentina team in Patagonia Park works so that healthy populations of huemul return again to the steppe, an environment from which it should never have disappeared.
Tompkins Conservation archive
The choique or Southern rhea (Rhea pennata) is the second largest flightless bird of the Americas. It inhabits the steppes of Patagonia and feeds principally on plants and invertebrates. It can reach up to a meter in height and weigh up to 30 kilograms. The male is in charge of the incubation and care of the charitos or chicks, even while different females lay eggs in its nest.
Our rewilding team works to eliminate the threats that have caused the decline of this species in Patagonia Park, to augment its numbers and generate strong populations that can be used to reintroduce the rhea in other parts of Argentina where it has disappeared.
Tompkins Conservation archive
The Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is the largest flying bird in the world, its wingspan can reach up to three meters across and it can weigh up to 15 kilos. It can travel hundreds of kilometers in one day; in order to cover such distances, it takes advantage of rising warm air currents. The adult plumage is black, with white feathers around the neck and on the back of its wings. The head is bare of feathers but males sport a fleshy crest. They feed on dead animals, therefore playing an essential role in preventing the spread of disease in the areas that they inhabit.
Our team works to stop the practice of indiscriminate killing of predators via the illegal use of poison, which can result in mass deaths of this magnificent bird. We also work to protect the extensive territory that this species needs to survive.
Photo: Franco Bucci
The Wolffsohn’s viscacha (Lagidium wolffsohn), also called the Patagonia viscacha, is a rodent of up to 3.5 kilos in weight that has a distribution restricted to the west part of Santa Cruz Province in Argentina and in neighboring parts of Chile. Locally known as a ardilla (squirrel), it inhabits rocky slopes, outcrops and crevices in canyons and cliffs, feeding on small plants that grow near to its hiding spots. During the day it prefers to sunbathe in open areas and is more active during the night.
We are working to restore populations of this species in the the rocky cliffs from where it has disappeared, largely as a result of human activity, especially hunting.
Photo: Franco Bucci
This unusual bird lives in the wetlands of the Patagonia steppe and is largely unknown by local people. It feeds on insects that it finds among the reeds that it inhabits, moving through the marshes by walking or running short distances. In favorable conditions, it can raise two broods of chicks in one summer. It is very rare to see it fly, but in winters with very low temperatures, it migrates north to little known destinations.
Patagonia Park is without doubt the best place to observe this endangered species. We are working to restore the reed marshes that have been degraded and where the bird has disappeared, in order to reintroduce individuals and generate new populations. Meanwhile, by monitoring the austral rail and its movements, we hope to better understand its behavior and migratory routes in Patagonia.
Photo: Sebastián Castillo
The Pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo) is a robust feline with a rounded head, short legs, long fur, and pointy ears. It has striped forelegs in a dark, almost black color. The tail has diffuse rings of the same color, and its chest is yellowish-grey. The Pampas cat is a versatile predator that feeds primarily on terrestrial birds, mice, and cavies. It shelters in thickets and rocky places.
At Fundación Rewilding Argentina, we are learning about the Pampas cat’s ecological role to restore its full functions as a natural regulator of rodent populations.
Photo: Hernán Povedano
The coypu (Myocastor coypu) is a large rodent that can weigh up to 10 kg (22 lb). It sports abundant brown fur with a white patch covering the snout and large, remarkable incisors in an orange-like color.
Its distribution range spanned across the watershed of the Deseado River, including the Pinturas and Ecker Rivers and wetlands in the Caracoles Canyon, in Argentine Patagonia. But persecution to obtain its fur and the loss of native vegetation drove the coypu extinct from vast areas of Santa Cruz province.
At Fundación Rewilding Argentina, we are working to restore coypu populations in wetlands within the Pinturas and Caracoles Rivers.
Hiking on the Lake Buenos Aires mesa, at the La Ascención gateway, Patagonia Park. Photo: Beth Wald
The Patagonia Park Binational Circuit is a circuit of approximately 600 kilometers; traveling this route allows one to experience and learn about the geology and ecology, the history and unique culture of this Province and of its neighboring region in Chile. The values, collective dreams and strong work-ethic offer the people of this region a new opportunity for local development.
In addition to the great diversity of landscapes, unique geological features, glaciers, lakes, rivers and a variety of environments that make this destination one of the most beautiful in the region, this circuit invites us to learn the history of the first human inhabitants, through the ancient rock paintings, petroglyphs and numerous other archeological sites in the canyons of the Caracoles and Pinturas rivers and on the Lake Buenos Aires meseta.
In the future, this tourism destination will be known also for its abundant fauna, the opportunity to witness the large migrations of guanacos, along with associated species and large predators. It will be along the Patagonia Park Binnational Circuit that one will be able admire a complete ecosystem, and be immersed in the vastness and abundance of a region that long ago permitted the development of the “guanaco culture”.
With the joint work we have done with local and provincial authorities and with the support of the press specializing in the promotion of the region, Patagonia Park has all that it needs to become one of the best-known destinations for nature and culture in South America, offering a new development alternative for its local communities that is linked to nature tourism.
La Ascensión Gateway
Culture immersed in nature
“The Prow” of the Lake Buenos Aires Meseta, above the La Ascension gateway to Patagonia. Photo: Miguel Coranti
The old headquarters of La Ascensión, a historic Patagonian ranch, is one of the best known access gateways or entrances to Patagonia Park. The local Rewilding Patagonia team has worked for several years to recycle the old buildings and turn them into public use structures —for example, an old school has been converted into a visitor center, a traditional shearing barn became a cultural center and a workshop was turned into a space where local entrepreneurs offer food, handicrafts and nature tourism activities.
La Ascensión also has a broad network of trails of various difficulty which connect the visitor center with Lake Buenos Aires and with the Lake Buenos Aires meseta, whose small lakes are important nesting areas for the critically endangered hooded grebe or macá tobiano.
The La Ascención Gateway is home to guanacos, fox, skunks and pumas, and is an excellent place for bird-watching. Darwin’s rheas, crested tinamous (martinetas), tit tyrants (cachuditos), wrens, flycatchers, meadowlarks (loicas), thrush, upland geese, Black-faced ibis are easy to find in the different environments of this sector. There are also several species of raptors, and, in the lakes, a good variety of ducks, swans, flamingos, coots and grebes.
This attractive gateway has a picnic area on the edge of Lake Buenos Aires with barbecue spots and grills and two old estancia dwellings or puestos have been rebuilt as huts for overnight stays and camping areas for visitors.
Cañadón Pinturas Gateway
Let the wild discover you
More than 16 kilometers of trails traverse the rocky cliffs of the Cañadón Pinturas gateway to Patagonia Park. Photo: Florian von der Fecht
The Cañadón Pinturas Gateway is located on the mythic Route 40, 54 kilometers to the south of the Santa Cruz town of Perito Moreno.
This new gateway has a surprising diversity of wildlife and landscapes, including imposing cliffs, panoramic vistas of the foothills, multi-colored layers of earth, and deep canyons. A network of more than 20 kilometers of self-guided trails offer different levels of difficulty for those who wish to explore this part of Patagonia Park.
These same canyons that inspired early hunter-gatherers to make their mark during the seven thousand years that they occupied the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the hands), Alero Charcamata and other sites of the gateway, are today the setting where the rewilding team of our foundation works to recover the original splendor and proper functioning of the ecosystem.
The objective is to restore the environments and the once abundant native fauna, recover the ecological interactions, and promote experiences in nature such as hiking and wildlife watching, especially of large mammals.
This gateway has a simple but comfortable lodge where businesses from the nearby communities offer diverse ecotourism excursions, activities which already have proven to be viable alternatives for economic development, based in conservation and the natural and cultural values of the region.
In Patagonia Park, where animals are protected, guanacos quickly lose their fear of humans and allow themselves to be photographed at close range in the vicinity of the La Posta de Los Toldos refuge. Photo: Florian von der Fecht.
Scenic Route 41
A journey through time
The Scenic Route 41 offers more than 170 kilometers of impressive vistas, like this of Cerro Colorado. Photo: Christian Emmer
The Provincial Route 41 —or Scenic Route 41— connects the towns of Los Antiguos, Lago Posadas and, more recently, links these with Perito Moreno National Park. This spectacular road crosses ever-changing landscapes of forest, steppe, high grasslands and mountains. Scenic Route 41 heads south from Los Antiguos, with the Jeinimeni River flowing to the east and forming a natural border with Chile; the road passes Monte Zeballos, Ghío Lake and the Colorado, San Lorenzo, Lapiz and Colmillo peaks. During the journey, one is accompanied constantly by the looming profile of the Buenos Aires Lake meseta and it is possible to see many bird species, such as black-necked swans, upland geese, a variety of ducks and the omnipresent Andean condor.
Find more information at www.parquepatagoniaargentina.org
Patagonia Park was born with the double objective: to ensure a healthy ecosystem and to generate an economy of nature on a regional scale. The economy of nature is an alternative development model that offers sustainable opportunities through conservation, restoration of environments and promoting natural and cultural attributes of a region for tourism. This model is exceedingly relevant for Patagonia Park, as it has spectacular wildlife in a region that also offers the attractions of beautiful landscapes and rich local culture.
This protected-area model makes seemingly contradictory goals compatible –conservation and economic production. In order to guarantee success with this double vision, there are important factors that have to be taken into account, such as scale. Is the area sufficiently large to grow a nature-based economy? In general, this requires vast tracts of land and in this case, Patagonia Park has an opportunity to offer a model of binational cooperation that will benefit the whole region.
We work with the communities of Los Antiguos and Perito Moreno, which are closest towns to the Patagonia Park Argentina gateways (entrances) of La Ascensión and Cañadón Pinturas. By taking advantage of the intrinsic cultural, historic and natural attributes of these communities and the region, we help develop economic ventures related to tourism and public use of the park. Such is the case of the Businesses of the La Ascensión Gateway, who offer their expertise, local foods and crafts to the growing number of visitors who come to the Park in search of wild, pristine nature.
With the support of the Secretary of Tourism of Santa Cruz Province and the Directorate of Tourism of Perito Moreno, a Guides Capacitation Course gives new opportunities to men and women who are looking to prosper in their own region via the re-valorization of wildlife, which has the capacity to boost the demand for nature tourism experiences.
Nature guides offer their services to visitors so they can experience the natural beauty of the Park, by trail-hiking and viewing of native wildlife. Photo: Christan Emmer