Kristine Tompkins retired from her position as CEO of clothing company Patagonia in 1993 and married Doug, co-founder of The North Face and Esprit, joining him in Chile where they would embark on their ambitious conservation project. Having spent much of his time skiing, climbing and kayaking in Chile, Doug already had a passion for the wild landscapes of this country. The couple began trying to buy land, but the idea of deploying their private wealth to protect nature was something very new and it was met with skepticism. Local people and even the authorities were initially opposed to the idea.
Many people close to the couple said that most would have given up and walked away from the intensity of such a project, but Kris and Doug, fuelled by a passion and knowledge arguably way ahead of its time, plowed on, eventually purchasing millions of acres of land. All the infrastructure necessary for a national park was put in place by the couple, alongside the reintroduction of native species that were locally extinct, before the land was then donated back to the Chilean government in 2019. To call their achievements incredible is no exaggeration.
Today you can visit these parks and experience the Tompkins’ work first-hand. We are losing huge amounts of the planet’s wildlands per day, so these national parks and their beautiful landscapes are not only a joy to visit, but are also essential if we want to preserve the Earth’s wilderness.
Breath-taking landscapes is a term we see used liberally in the travel industry, and there’s no doubt that when you’re talking about Chile’s mountains, lakes and coastlines it’s true, but as Kris herself has said, a beautiful landscape is just scenery. If you want real change, there needs to be a focus on the creatures that live there. The only way to create fully-functioning ecosystems is to ensure every single part of it is present. It was a big, audacious vision, but these lands could not be called healthy until the species that had been lost were brought back.
And so began a huge rewilding programme that involved, to name a few, jaguar, huemul deer, giant otter and the lesser rhea. Puma, Patagonia’s apex predators, in particular were declining in numbers following conflict with ranch owners who saw them as a threat to their livestock. Work is currently underway to reverse this viewpoint and re-establish the puma as an opportunity to create eco-tourism. Many of the park’s trackers are actually ex-gauchos who now work to protect the puma.
Since 2018 conservationists have been tracking and monitoring pumas with satellite collars to understand their habitat selection, movements, and predation patterns. The research has shown that a protected and growing population of pumas is not affecting the endangered population of huemul deer negatively in Patagonia National Park. During your stay you will have the opportunity to accompany the tracking teams by vehicle and om foot at sunrise and sunset, as well as monitoring hidden camera traps.