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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Narky Guanacos

One of the features of the wonderfully wild Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonian region of southern Chile, is what is probably the greatest remaining concentration of wild Guanacos, Lama guanicoe. This elegant camelid is one of only four living wild species; the only other South American one is the even rarer dainty little Vicuna from further north. (The domestic Llama was derived from wild Guanacos some 4,000-4,500 years ago; it is now given its own species name, but we needn't go there today!)

While an estimated 500,000 Guanacos survive, this is estimated to be only 0.1% of the pre-European population. Alienation of land and direct persecution by herders jealous of 'their' grazing resources are the key causes of this crash.

In summer, dominant males stand on elevated ground in their territory to watch for rivals; solitary males roam the fringes of the territories testing for weaknesses, and are met by a furious incumbent charging down the slopes. Most of the literature suggests that clashes, while violent, are not necessarily protracted, but that wasn't our experience one November afternoon a couple of years ago. My impression was that the two were unusually evenly matched; in fact I couldn't be sure which was the resident. 


When we arrived the two were already matted with mud, having wrestled each other to the boggy ground more than once. Support to my belief that this was a very even contest came with the observation that from time to time the role of aggressor was reversed, and after a protracted and surely exhausting chase and vicious tussle, when I thought it must be nearly over, the pursued turned the tables and became the pursuer.

The actual conflicts were savage, biting and wrestling each other down, over and again, even in the middle of the road on one occasion.


Their stamina and determination was astonishing. In the end we had to drive on, but they were still racing and brawling as determinedly as ever.

We weren't the only spectators, and of course the females had a lot more riding on the outcome than we did!
(As a final observation, I couldn't help comparing this frank scrutiny with the response of one of our group. Having announced that he couldn't bear to watch, "I don't like this sort of thing", he was observed surreptitiously peeping out from behind the bus. It takes all sorts as they say, both among humans and Guanacos.)


2 comments:

madoqua said...

These are funny looking animals! But I guess where they occur naturally, they are no less odd than some of our marsupials!

Ian Fraser said...

Ah well, you ought to hear what they say about people when they think we're not listening...