Monte León National Park
[The Monte León National Park is a project of our sister trust, Conservacion Patagonica, in which CLT also took part. For more information about the project, please visit the Conservacion Patagonica website.]
Monte Leon, Argentina’s first coastal national park, was born in 2002 as the result of creative collaboration between Argentine and American conservationists, and a generous act of wildlands philanthropy. The land, a former sheep ranch including more than twenty-five miles of ocean frontage on the Atlantic, lies on the southern Atlantic coast of Patagonia south of the Santa Cruz River estuary. The property had long belonged to the Brauns, one of the most prominent landowning and ranching families in Patagonia history, but was desired by the Argentine national parks administration because of its wildlife and scenic values. Years of off-and-on negotiation with the Braun family, however, had produced little progress toward creating a new national park.
When Dr. Francisco Erize, a former director of the Argentine national parks administration, recommended the conservation project to Kris and Doug Tompkins, Conservacion Patagonica became engaged in the effort. A public charity headed by Kris Tompkins, Conservacion Patagonica supplied the funds for an Argentine NGO, Fundacion Vida Silvestre Argentina, to formally acquire the property in 2000 and transfer title to the national parks administration. (A key source of the land acquisition funding came from Kris Tompkins herself.)
A complicating factor was that the property needed to be formally ceded from provincial to federal jurisdiction to establish a national park; that required unanimous support of the provincial legislature— not something easy to achieve in rural Argentina, where antifederal sentiment sometimes runs strong. Ultimately this vote was recorded, the land was bought and conveyed to public ownership, and a management plan for the new park was developed by a team of government officials and conservationists.
Monte Leon harbors vast colonies of birds—including Magellanic penguins—and marine mammals along the coast. Southern right whales cruise by on their annual migrations. Inland, the landscape is arid grassland typical of the Patagonian steppe. Its characteristic wildlife includes guanaco, puma, rhea, grey fox, and various small mammals and birds. After decades of intensive grazing by domestic livestock, the grasslands are recovering well. As a national park, this spectacular landscape will continue to regain wildness, and forever offer an experience to visitors similar to what Charles Darwin found when he and the crew of the HMS Beagle explored the area in 1834.