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Patagonia Wildlife: The Unsung Animals

Patagonia is a great place to see plants and animals in a pristine environment, it’s one of the reasons for its enduring popularity. Everyone knows about the pumas, the condors, the guanacos, the huemuls. This animal wishlist is a combination of the rare and endangered, the top predators and the easily-sighted poster animals of Patagonia. People go on about them all the time. Okay, confession time, we’re guilty of this too! In our defense, all of the previously mentioned animals are really interesting and thrilling to see in the wild. But we do think it’s about time that we took a moment to celebrate some of Patagonia’s lesser known animal inhabitants. Equally exciting, just not so often in the limelight. Here’s our look at some other animals you might see on your Patagonia tour:
 
chingueChingüe
In actual fact, you’re more likely to smell one of these than see one, since the chingüe is known in English as the Humboldt's hog-nosed skunk. However they are fairly commonplace little critters so you may well clap eyes on more than one during your visit to Patagonia. You’ll often pick up the lingering scent of burnt coffee along Patagonia’s long roads, where the skunk has sprayed a mist of its pungent musk in defense against passing motorists. It is small and stocky with a bare nose that it uses for rooting out insects and plants from Patagonia’s open steppelands in both Argentina and Chile. The chingüe is an endearing and photogenic animal, just be sure not to upset it or you may find yourself sitting alone for the plane ride home.
 
pichiPichi
The pichi is a small hairy armadillo that keeps to the arid areas and grasslands of Patagonia. Although largely nocturnal, the pichi is frequently sighted above ground and out of its burrow during daylight hours. When threatened, the pichi draws its legs and arms under the bony plates that form its shell, to protect its soft underbelly. If you see a pichi displaying this behaviour, it’s best to retreat and leave it in peace to avoid causing unnecessary stress. Happily, this small armadillo has no special conservation status and is still abundant in its natural environment, so a sighting is not all that rare.
 
geoffroys catGeoffroy's Cat
These endearing little felines may only be around the size of a large house cat, but they’re actually a rugged wild cat that has learned to adapt to environments as diverse as the Bolivian Altiplano and the windswept plains of Patagonia. In the south, Geoffroy’s cats have long outer coats to keep the rain off and tend to be slightly bigger than northern cats. While they prefer sparse woodlands, these cats can also be seen in grasslands and marshy areas and will even climb trees on occasion. They are known in particular for their habit of standing on their hind legs like a meerkat to survey the terrain, something that isn’t generally seen in other cats.
 
austral pygmy owlAustral Pygmy Owl
This tiny owl favours forests made up of Nothofagus trees, which makes the lush forests of Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia the ideal habitat for this diminutive bird. In all likelihood, your first indication that there’s an austral pygmy owl in the vicinity will be hearing its distinctive high-pitched hooting song, and you might then catch a glimpse of its bright yellow eyes watching you through the trees. You’ll have to focus if you want to see the rest of the bird though, since these are some of the smallest owls on the planet, weighing in at around a quarter pound or less and they are perfectly camouflaged for Patagonia.
 
patagonian maraPatagonian Mara
Looking like something between a rabbit and a kangaroo, the Patagonian mara - also known as a dillaby - is actually a rather large rodent. It has long muscular limbs and distinctive long ears, with a body length of around 69 to 75 centimetres. Although once widespread throughout Argentina, the mara is now only found in Patagonia where it thrives in areas with heavy shrub cover. Maras often live together in large warrens so if you see one you’re likely to see more, and if you take a Patagonia tour during September and October you’ll probably catch sight of some mara babies too!
 
burrowing parrotBurrowing Parrot
As the name suggests, one of the burrowing parrot’s most distinctive characteristics is that it carves out burrows in soft cliffs made of limestone or sandstone rather than nesting in trees. Their other habit of raiding crops make these birds unpopular with local farmers but their vibrant plumage ensures that they’re a favourite with visitors to the region. Burrowing parrots have a red patch on the underside and it’s thought that brighter and larger the red patch, the more attractive the bird is to parrots of the opposite sex. Although it spends the summer in Patagonia, the bird migrates north for the winter and has been known to turn up in southern Uruguay.
 
Want to see more of Patagonia's fauna and flora? Take a look at our Patagonia Wildlife Safari tours!