Pumas are among the least seen of earth’s big cats. Though they’re widely distributed from the Canadian Rockies to the southernmost Andes (and known alternatively as cougars or mountain lions), pumas have historically been thought of as too elusive for any sort of commercial tourism.
That changed when a company called Quasar Expeditions, in partnership with Explora Patagonia, launched its first puma trekking safaris earlier this year in Chile’s famed Torres Del Paine National Park.
The idea was to give wildlife enthusiasts the same opportunity to see pumas as they’d have with jaguars in Brazil, lions in Africa or tigers in India.
Source: Puma safari in Chile – CNN.com
Other Puma Watching Options
The endangered Florida panther, running out of room to prowl as its numbers rebound, may find its best chance at survival is a program to pay distrustful ranchers to protect what remains of its habitat.
The payment plan proposed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service has never been tried before on a large scale with a wide-ranging predator, officials say.
Landowners could receive $22 per acre to maintain the cattle pastures and wooded scrub increasingly critical as panther terrain.
Outside Florida, the cats are known as pumas, cougars or mountain lions.
Read more… Florida panthers rebound as wildlife service offers ranchers payment plan | Environment | theguardian.com.
UK tour operator Reef and Rainforest Tours who pioneered jaguar watching in Brazil have launched their new venture: Puma watching in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Expert trackers and a demanding programme of early starts and lots of walking mean that sightings of this most elusive of big cats are virtually assured. Read Nigel Richardson’s excellent article in the Saturday Telegraph and see the first few groups here.
Chile: on the trail of the elusive puma – Telegraph.
The puma puma concolor (also known as cougar, mountain lion, panther and catamount) is the second largest cat found in the Americas (males typically weigh 53 to 90 kilograms) and has an impressive range stretching from Canada in the north to the southernmost tip of Chile. It also frequents a huge range of habitats from cold mountains and tundra through to humid rainforest and desserts; however, there is a general preference for canyons, escarpments, rim rocks and dense brush. As such, pumas can be a very unexpected surprise on any wildlife holiday to the Americas.
Pumas are members of the Felidae family with their closest relative in the Americas being the much smaller jaguarundi. Pumas are classic stalk-and-ambush predators and – as would be expected from their varied habitat – have a wide variety of prey species including large mammals such as deer, elk and domestic cattle; small birds; rodents and even insects when times are hard. Large prey is typically killed through strangulation which helps differentiate kills from jaguars which usually bite through the skull.
Pumas are crepuscular (being most active around dawn and dusk) and tend to lie-up in dense cover during the day making them particularly difficult to see and most sightings are chance encounters during night game drives and road transfers at night. Territorial ranges vary greater depending on prey density and can be as large as 1000 square kilometres in northern Canada and as small as 25 square kilometres in some tropical areas.
Where to watch Pumas
Pumas are incredibly difficult animals to predict and almost all puma sightings happen by chance, particularly at night. Generally speaking, you have the greatest chance where prey densities are high, so areas that are good for jaguars (e.g. the Pantanal, Los Llanos, northern Belize, Manu) are also good for pumas. Occasionally, a wildlife lodge will find a puma kill and quickly construct a hide in the anticipation of a revisit and sometimes the daytime haunts (favourite trees, caves etc.) can be located and visited, however, the animals usually have a number of favoured places to choose from.
Watching pumas in the Torres del Paine, Chile
The high escarpments and canyons of the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile seem to be the only place where sightings of puma are anywhere close to being predictable. Here, there are a handful of remote caves where pumas are known to rear their young and the spring months (Sep, Oct, Nov) can often provide good results as the puma parents return to the caves regularly to feed their young. You will still need a good guide, a large amount of patience and a good deal of luck to get results. Night vision gear is also recommended as most of the sightings are after dark.
Read Nigel Richardson’s excellent account of Puma watching in the Torres del Paine National Park