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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Puma Tracking in Torres del Paine National Park

Looking for cougars in wild Patagonia - good eyesight, experience and patience are required
We trust in the expertise of Puma Tracker Miguel Fuente Alba
The result: 10 Puma sightings in 3 days - the wild cat is not too shy

Ever since our stay in the Brasilian Pantanal, where we observed jaguars in the wild (>>> see our blog), we were caught by "wildcat fever". We definitely want to see cougars as well. Nowhere else the chances are higher than in Torres del Paine National Park, home to the world's densest and most stable population. More than 90 cougars were counted lately. Nevertheless, it is not so easy to have them in front of the lens. We trust the experts and are on the road for three days with Miguel Fuente Alba - a luminary among Puma Trackers and talented photographer.

The day starts early, at 5:30 am we meet Miguel and Rafael. In the summer, when the days are long and (by Patagonian standards) warm, the nocturnal cougars are more likely to be seen at off-peak times. At noon they retire for a siesta. We park our camper at the park entrance. The park rangers allow us to spend the night there. So we don't have to drive back to town every day. The area where cougars usually are sighted is large - partly in the national park, partly on private land. In both we are only allowed to follow official roads and paths. That doesn't make it easy. The cougars here each have a territory of about 50 km², partly overlapping. In Miguel's car we drive along the most frequented routes - we stop again and again to scan rocks, beaches and bushes with binoculars. Good eyes and patience are required. Actually, we don't look for the cougars directly, but scan the guanacos. These are very sensitive to nearby predators. Their ears are pricked and they emit warning sounds for their fellows. As long as they graze in peace or lie on the ground, there is no immediate danger. We will only see cougars if they want to be seen or if they don't care. Luckily some here are used to humans and not very shy. Rupestre and Petaca are true Hollywood stars, having been the protagonists of numerous National Geographic and BBC documentaries.

Guanacos Torres del Paine National Park Pumas
These guanacos were only alerted by us :-)

We hike along a small path where Blinca was recently spotted. She is injured after a fight - a leg is broken, an eye and a tooth are missing. Severely weakened, she lost territory. Nevertheless, the morning remains unsuccessful - not even the strategy with the disabled puma works :-) We are well aware that there are no guarantees for sightings. But of course we are a bit disappointed. Around 11 o'clock we have siesta. Luckily us, to have our camper here, so we can take a nap ourselves.

At 4 p.m. we continue. We hear over the radio that Nico, a Puma Tracker, has spotted Petaca and her two cubs. Brilliant! We position ourselves on the side of the road and scan the terrain. Well hidden behind bushes, so-called Pata Negra, lies the 5-year-old wildcat. You don't see much, every now and then she raises her head. Even her 14-month-old cubs are hardly to be seen. Today, at almost 26 degrees, it's just too hot for the furry animals. Such temperatures are experienced more and more frequently in Patagonian summers. According to Miguel, that was unthinkable until a few years ago. Around 9:30 p.m. there is some movement. Petaca and her cubs observe a guanaco grazing nearby. We're excited to see what happens. However, none of the cougars attempt to hunt. At sunset we break up the observation for this day.

The next day starts with a highlight. When Miguel picked us up at 6 a.m., he reports seeing a puma. We drive a bit and well, a puma is chasing a rabbit. Without success... The wild cats can be up to 70 km/h fast, but only over a very short distance. A guanaco or other prey tends to have an advantage over longer distances. Pumas usually stalk and attempt to grab its prey by jumping onto its back. That's the only way they have a real chance.

Sol Puma Torres del Paine National Park Puma Watching Puma Guide Miguel Fuente Alba mmq Photography
Sol after an unsuccessful attempt to hunt

The puma is called Sol, a 4-year-old female, with her cub. She's a very good hunter, as Miguel knows, being on her own since she was 8 months old. Her mother had to leave when a male attacked her. Both siblings were killed. Puma cubs usually stay with their mother until an age of about 1.5 years. Sol's cub is already 12 months old. As a layman you hardly see any difference to the mother, only the color of the fur is a little lighter. However, experienced puma trackers recognize each of the wildcats by their colour, size and special features such as scars. Each puma also has a name. Miguel and Rafael love their job, you can tell immediately. We can learn a lot from them. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to leave the road, so at first we only get Sol from a distance. Later, however, we are lucky and she moves in our direction, before taking a nap. Now it's time for our lunch break, too.

Sol Puma Torres del Paine National Park Puma Watching Puma Guide Miguel Fuente Alba mmq Photography
Sol rises briefly looking for her cub

The afternoon remains unsuccessful again. Sol and her cub are nowhere to be found. Miguel is constantly in touch with other trackers and park rangers. Nevertheless, no cougars are seen. Hopefully we'll have better luck the next morning. It's already 10 a.m. when we discover a recently killed guanaco on the side of the road. This could be our chance. One or the other cougar will definitely come back to eat. We are observing the spot and suddenly Daneska and Coiron, sisters, both daughters of Rupestre, are lurking behind a stone. The third sister, Ginger, is not with them. It's not uncommon for them to share a kill. One by one they sneak down to the prey and to eat. Before that, we placed a GoPro nearby to get close-up shots :-)

In the meantime, more and more park visitors are coming to the spot. The scene right on the street is too present. Park rangers are struggling to manage the crowds. There are always stupid people who make noise, leave paths or don't give the animals the space they need. However, the two sisters don't really let bother themselves. In the distance - on a ledge - there are 4 more pumas lurking, which are probably a bit shy. We won't be able to get them up close in front of the camera. Even the experts do not know these cougars. They probably are still quite young. In Torres del Paine, some wildcats have developed a unique behavior in that they share kills. All evening we watch the wild cats. We've been waiting for something like this. And the scene is perfectly arranged with the three Torres in the background.

Daneska Guanaco Puma Torres del Paine mmq Photography wildlife watching
Daneska at the cunning guanaco

Even though we're not with Miguel the next day, we return to the same spot at 6am to observe more. The kill has been draged by the wildcats into the drainage under the road. One of the cougars is waiting in front of it. We are so close that we can take pictures with our mobiles. For a few more hours we keep on watching; great shots are taken. We didn't believe to be so lucky. A very special experience. And here, too, we quickly agree to come back - in winter. Then the wild cats are a little easier to find because they are more active and they leave tracks in the snow. And I feel like experiencing Patagonia in all seasons.

Puma Watching Torres del Paine Chile Nationalpark
Right after sunrise

We've been asked if investing in a Puma Trackers is worth it. You could also see cougars on your own initiative. That is certainly correct. However, most of the trackers working are true experts and understand the animals and their behavior. In addition, they are connected to each other via radio, which significantly increases the chances.

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Mar 03, 2023
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Nice Shots

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