Chile’s Pumas – images from our March 2015 holiday

Puma, Dani Free

Puma, Dani Free

Dan Free co-led our ‘Chile – Just Pumas!’ tour in March 2015. Despite having had good sightings of Puma during the first few days of the trip, he was keen to get even closer to these superb cats … Be careful what you wish for, Dan!

Distant scope views if we’re lucky – that was what we were expecting and I can’t remember the number of times that I said this before the tour and during our first few days in Chile. Whilst the big cats of Africa, the Tigers of India and to an extent, the Jaguars of the Brazilian Pantanal have become habituated to the presence of tourist vehicles, Puma tourism is still very much in its infancy and this would be an altogether tougher challenge. Three days in to the tour and we’d been very lucky – with brief views of a mother and two cubs on our first day, and three adolescent Pumas at dusk (and later at night) on our second.

Despite these sightings I think it’s fair to say that we were all still craving a more prolonged view of a Puma: one that would allow us to observe the sleek majestic form of this beautiful cat and to appreciate the intricate detail of its subtle, almost feminine-looking facial markings.
 
On our third morning in Torres del Paine we were out walking – along the line of a fence where Pumas have been observed hunting stranded Guanacos – when the radio suddenly crackled into life and our guide, Enrique, announced in a hushed excitable tone that our tracker, José, had found a Puma about a mile ahead and that we were to make our way to the site as quickly as possible. Snaking our way through the valley, we rounded a hillock and José came into view, perched on top of a rocky outcrop and seemingly staring out over the valley beyond.

Though still excited, our hearts sank a little as the prospect of a close encounter ebbed away … but we were wrong, very wrong, and as we got closer, José gestured to a spot about 50 yards behind him. There at the bottom of a small cliff face sat a stunning adult female Puma. Despite the close proximity of the cat, it was actually remarkably well camouflaged and it took a while to get everyone on it, at which point the cameras in the group suddenly went in to overdrive! Within a few minutes the Puma got up and disappeared from view, before reappearing again and walking straight down the slope towards us. Huddled together, some standing, some kneeling and with some even lying flat on the floor, we watched as she edged ever closer to our position, not knowing quite what her intentions were. A flick of the tail, a prick of the ears and a focused stare at the far side of the hill betrayed the fact that she was hunting, but as she passed us by, no more than 5 metres away from the nearest member of the group, we all held our breath in anticipation of what might happen. Being that person lying on the floor, no more than 5 metres away, I’m pleased to say that she barely gave us a moment’s consideration and continued on her way, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Nevertheless, it was still one of the most exciting wildlife experiences I’ve ever had and we were all grinning from ear to ear by the end of it.

Living in the UK it’s not very often that we feel even remotely threatened by the presence of a wild animal, if at all, but this experience had the adrenaline racing and I think we all felt humbled by the proximity of these animals.
 
Over the course of the next few days we came to realise that this encounter was not a one-off and we enjoyed several fantastic sightings of these beautiful predators, set amongst a backdrop of what must surely be some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. In addition to the Pumas and the stunning scenery of Torres del Paine, we also enjoyed enormous herds of Guanaco, often several hundred strong, multiple sightings of South American Grey Foxes, Patagonian Hog-nosed Skunks, a fleeting glimpse of a Geoffroy’s Cat and daily views of majestic Andean Condors. Whilst it is a long way to travel, the scenery and wildlife of Torres del Paine National Park is incredible, with fantastic photographic opportunities and if you’re looking for your next big cat adventure, then look no further!


View images from our ‘Chile – Just Pumas!’ holiday.

Our next 11-day Chile – Just Pumas! tour departs Thursday 25th February 2016.

For further information about our Big Cat holidays in Chile and Brazil please call Dan on 01962 733051 or email dan@naturetrek.co.uk