Thursday, 8 October 2015


There are times when the words aren't big enough to describe the facts, times when you're too amazed to hem in what you feel with the fences of grammar. This evening is one of those times. This afternoon we saw three pumas, all of them extremely well.

This is the more remarkable because this afternoon we took a break from puma-watching to walk the six kilometres of trail between two of the entrances to the park. Along our way there were herds of guanacos, gorgeous yellow-bridled finches, 6,000-year-old rock paintings and a South American snipe. It was a lovely way to blow away the cobwebs of three days spent largely in the bus (and with this afternoon's Patagonian wind, blow is a more than apt verb).

Reaching the guard station at the end of our walk, many needed the loo. By the time my poor clients emerged I was waving frantically to them and barking instructions. All about us guanacos were whinnying in alarm: a puma was near. José sprang to life and away up the hill to look for the cat. Nothing.

Then our radios crackle and, through the noise of the wind, we hear him urging us back to the road. We leap in the bus and drive to the spot, where José points into a ditch at the roadside. Sheltering here is a puma, a puma we later see moving in the open between patches of brush and crouching at length to the ground, almost out of sight. She is a well-known cat to José, another daughter of Mocha's mother (the last of the eight pumas we saw yesterday), from around the shore of Sarmiento Lake.

The light on this cat, from the dipping, horizontal sun, is divine. She shines. Shutters click and memories are recorded in binary codes. They are recorded deep in hearts too. Just thirty metres away, haloed in evening light, she is breathtaking, even in the context of the past two astonishing days of puma-watching.

We leave her to the hunt which José is sure is her plan and drive home. When we reach the lake where on our first evening we saw our first two pumas (which we thought at the time might be our only pumas), we see, sitting at the lake's edge, right by the side of the road, again no more than thirty metres from us, two pumas. They are the same two pumas, a large pale animal and a slight reddish animal.

How I wish I could write more, about the dead hog-nosed skunk we saw (and smelled) as they played with it, about the reddish cat leaping over the other, about their enchanted stare, turned on us as the sun set. I cannot write more as it is almost midnight and reception, where there is wifi, is about to close.

What I must report is that, seeing the cats so close this evening, and watching the behaviour of the smaller, reddish animal, José became sure that these were not a mating pair but a female (a female, he thinks, who disappeared two months ago from a neighbouring range) and her well-grown cub. The playful jumps, the mews, these, in his twenty-five years of experience, are hallmarks of cubhood.

This makes keeping an accurate list of the cats we have seen complex. Cris and I are sure that these cats are the same two we saw (much more distantly) at the site on our first evening. However this would make it highly likely that the large, apparently male animal we saw above the lake this morning, many hundreds of metres from us, was another new individual. José is adamant that a female with such a cub would not be seen without it. This morning's puma was not the adult we saw tonight (which the other day, at much greater distance, we took for the male of a pair). Who it was we do not know but, unless it was Camello whom we saw yesterday (wrong shape, wrong place, impossible), it was not a puma we have seen before. Thus we have had fourteen hits on twelve distinct pumas, all of them excellent sightings.

Words quite simply fail.

Naturetrekkers trekking for nature in Torres del Paine

Cave art in Torres del Paine

My charming, talented colleague Cris at work 

Cats seen in 2015
cheetah Acinonyx jubatus fearonii                3
serval Leptailurus serval serval                    3
leopard Panthera pardus suahelicus            2
lion Panthera leo nubica                              78
snow leopard Panthera uncia                       3
jungle cat Felis chaus                                   2
tiger Panthera tigris tigris                            13
leopard Panthera pardus fusca                    4
lion Panthera leo persica                              7
leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis           15
flat-headed cat Prionailurus planiceps          1
wildcat hybrid Felis silvestris grampia/catus  1
jaguar Panthera onca                                    8
puma Puma concolor                                    12

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