Reserva la Payunia

A public nature reserve located in the Province of Mendoza in Argentina, the Reserva is home to the people of the Cooperativa and the wild guanacos

the reserva

Home to the people of the Cooperativa and the guanacos

The Reserva la Payunia is a public nature reserve, the size of Rhode Island, located in the Province of Mendoza in Argentina.  The Reserva la Payunia has more extinct volcanoes per square mile than any other area on the face of the earth.   It was established by the Province in 1982 and is named after an The Reservaextinct shield volcano called Payun Matru or “Copper Mountain” which was the name used by the native Mapuche peoples who historically inhabited the area.  The volcano Payun Matru, 10,000 feet above sea level, dominates the windswept landscape in the Reserva.  Immediately to the west of the Reserva are the Andes, perpetually snow capped, with peaks above 22,000 feet. 

The Reserva is located within the geographic/climactic area which scientists call the “Patagonian Steppe”.   Due to the harsh conditions and the scarcity of water the Reserva is sparsely populated - there are about 150 people living there in 30 family groups.   The families are widely dispersed and separated from each other; each lives in a rudimentary shelter made of wood or stone and with a dirt floor.   The people currently make their living as subsistence goat herders.  Each person survives on about USD $2 per day.

House on the ReservaThere are few roads in the Reserva and those that exist are little more than primitive dirt tracks.  There is no electricity.  There  is no water other that what can be pumped by windmills.  There are no phones, neither land lines nor cell phones, and no VHF communication.  There are no hospitals, clinics, doctors or nurses – there is one rudimentary medical kit for the entire population.  There is no radio or television reception – also there are no radios or TV’s.  There are no schools and the children have to travel outside the Reserva to attend rural schools.  They are absent from their homes during 18 days every month.  The nearest town is called Malargue and it is a 3 hour drive by 4 wheel drive truck.  The residents of the Reserva have no way of communicating with Malargue short of driving there.

What the Reserva does have in abundance is a large number of wild guanacos.  There is a healthy population of about 15,000 guanacos that live in and migrate through La Payunia.  These animals are strictly protected by the provincial authorities while in the Reserva and hunting is forbidden.  Nevertheless, there is a good deal of illegal hunting that takes place by people living outside the Reserva who come into La Payunia and shoot guanacos for meat and hides.  There are several provincial park guards and they do their best to prevent the illegal hunting but with such a large area to patrol and so few guards their efforts are only slightly successful.

Guanacos runningGuanacos on the Reservaread about the project