Chile’s diverse animal kingdom inhabits a landscape of extremes. The country’s formidable natural barriers – the immense Pacific, lofty Andes and desolate Atacama – have resulted in an exceptional degree of endemism, with a third of Chile’s mammals, such as the shy pudú (pygmy deer) not found anywhere else in the world.
Four species of camelid alone are found in Chile’s barren altiplano, namely the shaggy, domesticated llama and alpaca in the north, and their wild cousins – the Patagonia-dwelling guanaco and the delicate vicuña with its highly prized fur, restricted to the high altitudes. Chile’s biggest cat is the elusive puma, another Patagonia resident, while smaller wildcats, from the colo-colo to the guiña, also stalk these grasslands. Endemic rodents, such as the mountain vizcacha, are found in the northern highlands, while several species of fox can be spotted in the desert, altiplano and coastal forest.
A country seemingly made for birdwatchers, Chile is home to a curious mix of the small and beautiful, such as hummingbirds (including the firecrown, endemic to the Juan Fernández islands), while at the other end of the scale is the mighty Andean condor, soaring over the mountains. High in the Andes near the Bolivian border, the Chilean and James’s flamingo gather at remote saltwater lakes, while the long-legged ñandú propels itself over the Patagonian steppe. Equally impressive sea birds include the Humboldt, Magellanic and king penguins, and Chile’s coastal waters host some spectacular mammals, such as the blue whale and several species of dolphins.