Darwins Rhea plays a key role in the Patagonian steppe as seed dispersers. In 2014 less than 20 birds remained in the Chacabuco Valley after a century of overgrazing, fencing, poaching and egg collection. The rescue of two orphaned rhea chicks (Ojitos y Cote) triggered the creation of a Rhea Breeding Center. There have been 5 releases of rheas into the wild by the Tompkins Conservation Chile team, led by women. We aim to achieve a wild population of 100 rheas in Patagonia National Park
Darwins Rhea are icons of the grasslands but nearly extinct in Patagonia National Park. Its population was small and isolated, making it impossible to rebound on its own. The Rhea Breeding Center was created in 2014 to help the ecosystem to recover. Its operation is challenging due to its remote location in a cold desert shrub-steppe, with almost constant wind and year-round frost. Daily feeding of rheas, incubation and translocation, control of threats, and monitoring are daily tasks.
We propose raising young rheas and releasing 10-20 annually as part of an active management strategy to revert the extinction of this flightless bird in Patagonia National Park. Since 2014, the wild rhea population and distribution area has tripled around the breeding center. To strengthen the genetic pool, we translocate rheas from distant locations in light aircrafts, which our breeding males adopt. They are daily fed to help them grow strong and carefully monitored once released.
The Rhea Breeding Center aims to reach a wild population of 100 adult rheas in Patagonia National Park and restore its essential role in the ecosystem. As herbivores and seed dispersers, rheas help grasslands recover, home of guanacos, pumas, pampas cat, vizcacha, and Tuco-Tuco. Once the site of big cattle ranches, TC Chile works to rewild Patagonia National Park, which today has one of the highest biodiversity levels in the region, being the largest ecosystem restoration initiative of Chile