Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Friday, February 5, 2010

Patagonia - Environmental change and cryptid survival


Patagonia has suffered serious environmental alterations as a consequence of its occupation after the Chilean and Argentine governments military campaigns to occupy Northern Patagonia in the 1870-80s and both countries border conflict 1880-1900 which prompted them to effectively occupy the region.

This ended millennia of sustainable use of the resources by the native people and began a period of careless over-exploitation.

What does all this have to do with Cryptids?

In many entries we have mentioned different kinds of creatures and wondered why they are so scarce and their sightings so far apart and discontinuous.

If cryptids are beeing subjected to stress by human activity in their formerly untouched habitat, it is reasonable to assume that our mining, fishing, tourism and farming industries coupled to oil extraction, river dams and sheep breeding will have a serious impact on them.

Though many believe that Patagonia in 2010 is still the Patagonia of the 1800s, that is not true.

We have changed it, like we change everything we touch. Though population in Patagonia is low, and mostly confined to the river valleys and coastal areas (which hold two thirds of the population), human impact exists and may affect our elusive cryptids.

I have already mentioned sheep farming and its negative impact on the native guanaco and the local predator feline, the puma. There are others.

As part of my personal contribution to the 2010 Biodiversity year, in this post I will summarize some of the causes of environmental deterioration in Patagonia:

1. Irrigation.

Patagonia’s arid steppe area is crossed by several rivers that flow east into the Atlantic Ocean. These provide water for farming.

The valleys of the Negro and Neuquén rivers in the North and Chubut River in Central Patagonia hold roughly 34% of the total Patagonian population (about 463,000 persons). This is followed by the coast, which is home to 32% of Patagonia’s population mostly because all the Provincial capitals are there (the exception is landlocked Neuquén), so public employment is abundant.

These irrigated oasis produce apples, pears, plums and grapes (Patagonian wines come from these valleys).

The excessive use of irrigation has led to an increased salinity in the soil and also to the drying up of the Chico River in Chubut (due to the use of Senguer River’s water at the Sarmiento Oasis its flow into Lake Colhue Huapi has been dramatically reduced).

In today's post I will focus exclusively on Argentina's Patagonia. I will mention Chilean Patagonia in a later post.

2. Dams.

Argentina’s need for electricity has led the country to invest in hydroelectric projects on many Patagonian rivers since the 1960’s. The Limay has several “mega”dams along its 450 km course and the backwaters of the last one nearly reach Lake Nahuel Huapi.

Neuquén river and Colorado River also have hydroelectric dams.
Even a series of lakes at Los Alerces National Park in Chubut, close to the town of Esquel have been flooded by a large dam that supplies electricity to an Aluminium foundry built on the coast 700 km (435 mi.) away.

Rivers in Chile are facing the threat of new dams that will flood large areas of pristine forests.

3. Oil and Natural Gas.

81% of Argentina’s natural gas reserves are in Patagonia [1] and 92% of the Oil [2]. They flow down pipelines that cross northern Patagonia from Neuquén and Rio Negro to Buenos Aires and from Tierra del Fuego along the coast by the rich coastal oil fields of Stanta Cruz and Chubut, all the way to Buenos Aires. Thousands of kilometers of gas and oil pipes.

Mining is also important: 45.2% of non metallics minerals and 25,7% of the quarry minerals produced in Argentina are Patagonian.[3] I have already posted on the growing concern about gold and silver mining and the use of open-pit mining and cyanide.

4. Coastal deterioration.

Starting in the late 1700s, ships from many nations stopped by along the Patagonian coast to slaughter penguins, seals and whales. They sea elephants and sea lions were wiped out in many northern Patagonian locations. Whales faced a similar situation. Nowadays though protected, several countries continue the slaughter of whales.

Fishing, which is quickly depleting the Argentine sea and the South Atlantic Ocean, impact negatively on Patagonia’s biodiversity and overfishing is a very serious issue and is driving the Argentine Hake ( Merluccius hubbsi) to extinction.[4]:

Spawning biomass has declined significantly in the last two decades
with little prospect of restoring the 1+ million t biomass of age 4+ fish
estimated in 1986, but it is hoped to recover the spawning biomass to
400,000 t.The very poor recruitment in the last three years is seriously
threatening the overall continuity of the fishery.There is concern about
continued overfishing of the Argentine hake stock and the long-term
sustainability of its fishery however reported landed catch has been
progressively declining since 2004 due to lesser abundance. In 2008,
landing decreased again by 30% from previous year and hit the level of
198,000 t [5].

The Chilean hake is in bad shape too:

The current stock status is described as recovering. A peak in catch in
2000 was followed by stock collapse between 2003 and 2004 and the
spawning stock biomass is currently at very low levels. A recovery plan
has been announced but not yet explained or implemented. Quota has
been reduced this year again by 5% and other measures adopted.
Good recruitments in the last two years allow some optimism about
prospects for recovery in the mid-term [5].

5. Exotic species.

Red deer, European boars, salmon and trout, carps, beavers, and why not, sheep, cattle, the German wasp and even bears... a long list of exotic animals that were deliberately (or unwillingly) introduced into Patagonia such as beavers.

Here, lacking predators they quickly adapted and multiplied, displacing local species (such as the Patagonian otter) and becoming a plague.

The local Patagonian deer, the huemul and the Pudu-Pudu (the World's smallest deer) were hunted relentlessly by sheep farmers and travelers who shot them for the fun of it.

To be continued...


[1] INDEC. Argentine Government's Statistics Institute.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Servicion Geologico Minero Argentino
[4] de Villalobos, Ruy, (2002). La valuación de recursos naturales extinguibles: el caso de la merluza en el mar continental argentino.
[5] Seafish responsible sourcing guide: Hake.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

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