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Pumas of Patagonia

Mondo Verde

Mondo Verde Expeditions
November 2-18. 2023
Photos by Bob Gress / Birds in Focus

Puma, Torres del Paine, Chile

With Mondo Verde Expeditions, we explored the Patagonia region of southern Chile including Chiloé Island, Tierre del Fuego, Strait of Magellan, Estancia Laguna Amarga and Torres del Paine National Park. This PhotoBlast highlights the Pumas and Guanacos in the Torres del Paine area.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Patagonia refers to a region that encompasses the southern end of South America. It includes parts of Chile and Argentina. The Chile portion contains the alpine crest of the Andes to the west coast. The Argentina portions contains the windy, arid steppe habitat to the east. Torres del Paine National Park (below) lies in the southern tip of South America about 200 miles north of Chile’s southernmost city, Punta Arenas. The park’s distinctive granite peaks of the Paine Massiff rise to 8,200 feet above sea level.

The largest predator of Patagonia is the puma.

The puma’s primary prey is the guanaco.

The illusive Puma concolor is known from Alaska to the southern tip of South America. It’s known by a variety of names including Puma, Cougar, Mountain Lion, Catamount and others.

The guanaco (below) is an inquisitive member of the camel family and is the wild ancestor of the domesticated llama. We found Guanacos singly and in herds of more than 50.  They have excellent vision and are always alert. 

Adult guanacos may weigh as much as 200 pounds. In Patagonia, adult female pumas weigh about 110 pounds and males weigh approximately 175 pounds. Pumas in Patagonia are a little larger than those in the U.S. It takes a healthy population of guanacos to support the large puma population of the Torres del Paine region.

The private ranch of Estancia Laguna Amarga stretches to the boundary of Torres del Paine National Park and the Paine Massiff in the distance. This is the home to these pumas and guanacos.

While much of the herd grazes, a few guanaco sentinels are always watching.

Guanacos high-pitched, horse-like whinny signals the herd of intruders, whether humans or pumas.

Pumas are efficient predators with plenty of stealth and patience. They kill a guanaco about once a week and feed on it for several days.

The best place in the world to observe pumas is the Torres del Paine region. Here, it is estimated there may be a puma for every 4 square miles. Only here in Patagonia are pumas acclimated to the presence of human observers.
The next day we returned to find both cats from the day before replaced with two new pumas. They are identified by subtle facial markings, scars and the first one above by a missing upper canine tooth. This was either the 4th or 5th day after the kill and there was little left. The cats gnawed on bones and hide to get the last morsels.

Cleaning up leftovers are smaller predators and scavengers including this South American Gray Fox who fills an ecological niche similar to coyotes at home.

Other scavengers include this group of six Andean Condors and three Crested Caracaras (all below). We saw both species daily while in the shadow of Torres del Paine National Park. These are feeding on a sheep carcass closer to Punta Arenas.

Other wildlife of this area include Lesser Rheas named after the Greek goddess Rhea, daughter of earth and sky.

This Large Hairy Armadillo (below, yes that is his common name) is actually a little smaller than our Nine-banded Armadillo of the U.S.

The Long-tailed Meadowlark adult male is unmistakable. It is found in open areas, grasslands, forest edges and even cities. Compared to its North American counterparts its tail is proportionally longer.

Mondo Verde Expeditions travelers (below) from left to right: Kevin Groeneweg, Laura Groeneweg, Rod Wedel, Mark Boranyak, Sharon Boranyak, Tom Ewert, Jim Marlett, Tom Jett, Melinda Jett, Patty Marlett, Mary Butel and Bob Gress.

David Couve, our Patagonia guide and wildlife expert