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Wild horses are an intrinsic part of one of the most impressive natural environments of the southern tip of South America. It has been determined that the largest number of these animals live in Chile—more precisely in the Torres del Paine National Park—in the Magallanes Region.
Slightly less numerous, they also find their habitat in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, and on the island of Tierra del Fuego. Small herds have also been reported farther north, in the territories of the Argentinean provinces of Neuquen and Rio Negro.
Distant and more recent origins
The modern horse belongs to the genus Equus, which evolved millions of years ago in North America— although some experts say they also populated much of South America. In fact, some fossils dated between 10,000 and 12,000 years old have been found in Chile.
However, those pioneer species became extinct and modern horses were introduced by Spanish conquistadors around the 16th century. The ancestors of the current herds of wild horses were domestic animals.
It is speculated that they descend from domestic horses that were abandoned in farms that—for some reason—were left without human population. There are also groups made up of animals from several wild generations that, over time, have gathered naturally in herds.
The feral horse that inhabits the Patagonia is robust and its forelegs are very muscular due, perhaps, to the vast and rough terrains where they live. They are 5.5 feet tall at the cruz (a point below the head, between the neck and back), and the color of their coat is mostly bay or sorrel (yellow towards cinnamon red).
A majestic environment
Patagonian wild horses live in a territory dotted with hundreds of thousands of hectares that are protected by national parks and private reserves in Chile and Argentina. The meadows southern Patagonia offer fertile grasslands among snow-capped mountains, forests, and lakes.
Troops of guanacos (native camelid) roam there, stalked by stealthy mountain lions. Groups of Choiques (indigenous rhea) roam the plains, watched from above by the magnificent Andean condors—the world’s largest flying bird. But if you want to locate and watch the wild horses, the task becomes difficult because of the natural intelligence and stealthy gait that characterizes them.
One of the sites where large herds have been detected is the Baguales Sierra Mountains in Chile, about 140 kilometers (90 miles) from the city of Puerto Natales. The local geography boasts soft hills alternating with rough rock formations, the forests, and dozens of streams with clear meltwater that transform the expedition to discover the wild horses into an unforgettable adventure.
In the Torres del Paine National Park, proud herds of up to 50 horses have been detected. Crossing the Strait of Magellan, in the mythical big island of Tierra del Fuego, much larger herds inhabit the region of Yandegaia, on the Chilean side of this territory.
Scientific tourism and southern sanctuaries
Different alternative travel companies offer the possibility to get closer and observe wild horses through the so-called “scientific tourism.” One of them organizes tours in the area of Laguna Azul (Torres del Paine National Park), home to a herd that consists of about 100 animals.
The tourists become involved in scientific projects collaborating with the observation, identification and registration of horses. It should be noted that humans cannot come closer than about 50 feet from the herd, to avoid invading their natural space or disrupt their normal activities.
To live the adventure of observing these magnificent animals, it is necessary to contact local tour operators and request previous authorizations from the authorities of national parks in Chile and Argentina. ■