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EXPLORING THE GIANT MILODON CAVE
IN PUERTO NATALES CHILE

Story and photos by

Milodon Cave Natural Monument is miles from nowhere, but well-worth a stop if you're traveling to the tip of South America. The cave, on Benítez hill, is 15 miles northwest of Puerto Natales, Chile, and 155 miles northwest of Punta Arenas. (The city is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park.)

Milodon Cave Natural Monument sign
Milodon Cave Natural Monument sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

More than 10,000 years ago, milodons (giant sloths) roamed the primordial landscape of Chilean Patagonia. These herbivorous mammals, now extinct, used to stand on their haunches to pull down trees and branches for their succulent leaves.

Twice the height of a human, the milodon (Mylodon darwini) had reddish-brown hair, the body of a grizzly bear, and the tail of a giant kangaroo. It sought shelter in the caves that perforated the landscape.

Extinct giant sloth in Patagonia

In 1895, Captain Hermann Eberhard, a German-born settler and sheep rancher, uncovered the well-preserved remains of a milodon in a cave. His discovery wouldn't have created more excitement if it had been the Yeti (abominable snowman), Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster.

Milodon (giant sloth) life-size model
Milodon (giant sloth) life-size model
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The finding prompted Wellington Furlog, a Cornell University scientist in the United States, to set out in 1907 to search Southern Chile for living specimens. But Furlog found no Jurassic Park.

Today, Milodon Cave is a natural monument. Visitors can follow a 15-minute trail to the entrance. A path loops through the interior of the 100-foot-high, 260-foot-wide, 650-foot-deep cavern. Signs (in Spanish) describe the prehistoric creature and the stalactites and stalagmites in its lair.

London's British Museum

If the life-size model in the cave motivates you to learn more, stop at the Maggiorino Borgatello Regional Salesian Museum when you return to Punta Arenas. In a display case, you'll find black and white photographs of the milodon, as it was removed from the cave. A palm-sized piece of its thick hairy pelt, in the case, is all that remains in Patagonia.

To see the desiccated, hide-covered skeleton, you must travel farther. Much farther. All the way to London, and its infamous repository of antiquities — The British Museum.

 


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Chile Tourist Board: www.chile.travel

More things to see and do in Chile:

San Pedro de Atacama Tours

El Tatio Geysers Chile

Torres del Paine - Hiking from Explora Patagonia

Cruises of Chile's Inside Passage

Chilean Food