The man who dedicated his life to saving the „ghost” of Patagonia

When Miguel Escobar first saw a humul, he truly felt something that even today he cannot define in precise words. One thing he says, he won’t let go Every time you are near this enigmatic animal from Patagonia, which is in danger of extinction, you should never feel like it.. “There is a dynamic exchange where a being who is not afraid of you, sees you as an equal and you can make eye contact with; They are moments of sharing the world with another being that transmit peace and transcendence.„, he says, and sentences: „Losing it doesn’t seem very smart”.

„On a personal level, I do this because it has awakened in me a kind of spiritual community, connection. This has never happened to me,” says Miguel.Courtesy: Miguel Escobar

He came to that conclusion after walking and walking the Patagonian lands, his place in the world. Before reaching Upper Sengur River To meet Humul and create an NGO that has the only rescue and reintroduction center for this species. Miguel was developing an environmental awareness linked to a deep love for his land.. Born and raised in Diatema Argentina, adjacent to Commodoro Rivadavia, „discovered” by Shell, the son of an Argentinian father and Chilean mother, Miguel spent his childhood on his grandfather Lucio’s field, where there was a traditional oil well.

There was a shift from traditional production to secondary recovery, which caused significant damage to the environment. The disruption was total. „All the places where I spent my childhood were destroyed by machines. Every time a well was drilled, let alone oil pools, birds began to die at an alarming rate. „It’s a scandal.”

Troubled, he decided to move to the town of Sarmiento in Chubut, on the shores of Colhué Huapi and Musters lakes, where he worked as a teacher for 15 years. Until 2010, fate knocked on his door. „I saw this story„, sums it up. At the time, Miguel was working at the National University of Patagonia, where he graduated in tourism. The municipality of Alto Río Senguer hired him as a photographer to create a file that would be used to create brochures of Patagonian landscapes. „There I found out that the mayor wants to create a reserve in the Fontana Lake area to protect Humul.„, remember.

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

Although he was a Patagonian, he never had much to do with the issues of this endangered species. „Destiny brought me Lakes Fontana and La Plata to create this park in 2013, named 'Shunem’, which means Humul in the Ionikenk language.„, explain. „In this area, according to researchers, there was a large population of humules,” he warns.

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Miguel started walking and walking through the area to study the animals. “We walked a lot, but there was no point … I could not see it: it was a very difficult image”, he says with a smile.

Meanwhile, I slowly learned the full history of this animal described as the „ghost of Patagonia.” „Humul has always been a mystery„, summarizes. „It is one of the two indigenous deer of Patagonia, along with the pudu; It lives in forest gaps and transitions with grassland. The first explorers of this unknown land discovered it there„, reveals.

A sample of humulin on the shores of Fontana Lake, where they are usually found in winter.Courtesy: Miguel Escobar

The Huemul did not start problems with the contemporary conquest and the appearance of farms, but they were hunted by groups of nomads who already lived in the area, the Tehuelches and canoeists. They used their skins as clothing.

„Unlike other deer that get away with human presence, the humul has a way of being a little closer to tame,” explains Miguel. „Humul is quiet, he doesn’t register the man as a threat. You can get close to the four or five meter range. This attitude does not make it another animal,” he adds, impressed.

On an excursion to Torres del Paine, along with 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 turn. He could no longer ignore what he called the „Huemul question”: „One feels a different spirituality and you have to commit to it”.

Miguel explores the Patagonian forests.

This universe of irreplaceable feelings served to form a foundation, which they called Shunem, whose main purpose was to answer a fundamental question: Why does Heumul die? „We have two main characters in this story. Werner Fluke (Swiss researcher) and Jo-Ann Smith (American researcher), Humul studied the world.” Until then, he says, it’s a sea of ​​myths: dogs attacking it, illegal hunting, red deer competition. Nothing is believed, nothing is proven.

The investigation was interrupted by the permission of the Wildlife Directorate of Suput Province. Radiocollars In some models. A pioneering decision in the country. „The first thing we noticed was the lack of teeth in the young animalsMainly browsers, they use it to pluck plants,” says Miguel.

Two humules with radio collars, this technology allowed us to reach some conclusions about the behavior of this endangered animal.Courtesy: Miguel Escobar

Later they noticed oral problems and generalized osteomyelitis. The jaw was the most dramatic site with infections and canals.

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There was a model named „Toothless” that they were able to follow for two years, which allowed them to see a possible answer to the initial question. „After his death, we studied him and we understood that he lived in pain, with terrible infections, with a canal that caused sinusitis, which affected his sense of smell, a vital sense for survival.”

more time, Dental problems were evident in more than 50% of the animals they audited. „So we said: Here’s a pattern, a note to explain the destruction.” Studies have pointed to the fragility of the environment in the mountain range, which lacks the nutrients necessary for the health of humules. Deficiency of minerals such as selenium, iodine, magnesium and copper affects their bone formation and reproductive capacity, representing a real threat to their survival.

„This is one of the great debates behind the humul issue,” warns Miguel. According to Shunem Foundation, based on these indicators, they are “In the presence of an animal sheltered in the forest”. It moved the shelf. For the first time someone said that the humule was not essentially a „forest animal”.

Miguel is a photographer and loves his land, Patagonia.

In fact, as part of the research for the book he co-authored with Flueck and Smith, “EL HUEMUL-SHOONEM, wood that moves/re”, Miguel came across the work a German geologist, Hans Steffen, had done in the area. He had come to the country in 1902 to carry out a survey in the context of the border conflict between Argentina and Chile. „Steffen describes the basins, where he talks about the humules, where he saw them. The footprints… and where did you find them all together? In transition from grassland and forest. It was a great discovery” says Miguel.

We decided that what he lost was winter and summer., and stuck in his summer. You can’t go down because there are farms, hunting and dogs. It stays there and its offspring are born into the forest and lose their migratory memory, just like the guanaco and domestic cattle,” he describes. Although the idea was debated, not all of the academic world accepted it, and for Miguel „The best thing that can happen is to discuss it, so we keep the concern for Humul alive.”.

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With this diagnosis in hand, they moved on to another advanced idea and asked for authorization to do zoology Detention and Semi Detention Centre. The idea was to create a generous space in the territory to try to increase the population of humules, because the situation is really critical: 500 are estimated to remain in Argentina; In Chile, 1500.

Joined Shunem Temaikén Foundation And, together, they decided to replicate an idea from a Chilean NGO, which was able to significantly increase the population of humules in an extinct region.

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 donated by a private farm. Then they continued the construction of the center and finally in 2021 they opened it, a laboratory shed, a shelter for the park rangers., and with an electric wire to prevent the puma from attacking the humules. „We brought in some specimens that were sick, and others that didn’t start the reproductive cycle,” he says. „Today we have five animals, two males and three females, and we have already had the first birth (shehuen, meaning 'source of light’ in the Tehuelch language), the first in semi-captivity.”, he adds.

Why is humul worth saving? „It is an umbrella species, Other species depend on forest and grassland zone, To be a spreader of seed that softens the ground with its hooves,” he summarizes. “On a personal level, I do this because of the awakening in me, A kind of spiritual community, connection. It never happened to me. How could we be so stupid… We can’t lose this: it’s as Patagonian as we are,” says Miguel, who recently served as president of the Shunem Foundation and is now operations manager.

The Shunem Center is co-managed with the Temeiken Foundation.Courtesy: Miguel Escobar

His life is completely devoted to saving Humul. Now Miguel is working with the Coske Foundation in Chile to focus on caring for the valleys that connect Lake La Plata to the Aysen region and Lake Cisne. “Field lands are being purchased to host other breeding centres. To take the humule back to its original place and restore the balance they had”, he advances.

“I am a fifth generation Patagonian. Here you live in harmony with nature. When you start experiencing such intimate losses, You are expected to resist. It is a necessity for self-survival, and for our children who struggle. We should be interested in intimate topics Collaborative assistance Because everything goes wrong. The weather has been unleashed. We do or stop doing something should be. We are on to something here,” he concludes.

Exploring the area of ​​the Shunem Reserve, where around 60 humules are believed to live.

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