“Over here,” whispered one of our party, who had wandered slightly down the slope to look at a bird he’d spotted. One by one we edged near to him – any movement can scare off the herd, so silence and stealth was key.
Suddenly, above the flame-red flowers of the so-called ‘guanaco bushes’ (named thanks to their resemblance to the native camelids that roam the pampas plains), I spotted one, then two, then ten, then a whole herd of baguales grazing ever so quietly on the grass. We sat and watched them for at least an hour, taking turns to look through the spotting scope, eating our sandwiches and being utterly enchanted by the sheer number of them found amid this majestic Patagonian landscape.
Nowhere else in the world is there a herd this big living together,” said Victor in a proud but soft tone. “We think it’s because of the puma that they tolerate other males in the group, knowing instinctively that a larger number means a greater chance of survival.”
When it comes to wildlife, numbers are particularly important – in a whole host of ways. That’s why Victor started these small tours a couple of years ago: both to allow visitors to see the baguales and to show the government and local farmers that they are worth protecting as they bring in valuable tourist dollars to the region.
It’s a tactic another guide, called Diego Araya, who I met several days later, had employed 15 years ago, to protect not the horses but their predator – the much maligned puma. After spending a few days undertaking several wildlife walks myself, spying woodpeckers, Patagonian skunks, grey foxes, condors, South Andean deer and hares, I did wonder if there was any need to work quite so hard to protect the puma, as this legendary cat was a definite no show.