This female Puma had recently killed a newly-born Guanaco to feed herself and her three, one-year old cubs. After feasting themselves, the cubs played with each other before one of them headed directly towards me – thankfully just to drink. The mother (named Sarmiento, after the local lake) then took them off to their preferred daytime resting place on the shores of Lago Sarmiento. We were to see this family on a few occasions during our time in Torres del Paine, Patagonia.
The Puma (Puma concolor), is also commonly known as the cougar or mountain lion. The subspecies in Patagonia is the South American Puma, Puma c. patagonica. Pumas are the fourth largest cat after Tigers, Lions and Jaguars. Adult males are around 2.4m long from nose to tail, and females average 2.0m in length. Males weigh an average of 80kg but can reach 100kg. Females typically weigh between 29 and 64kg, averaging 50kg. Pumas stalk their prey through bushes and across rock ledges before leaping onto the back of their victim and inflicting a suffocating neck bite. Pumas will cover the carcass of large prey and return to feed over several days.
The breeding season is December to March with a three-month gestation period and a litter size of up to six cubs, although fewer is the norm. The cubs are weaned at around three months and from then on the cubs will gradually start to accompany their mothers. At around 6 months the cubs will hunt for small prey on their own but they will stay with their mothers for about two years
In Patagonia, the preferred prey of the Puma is the Guanaco. The Guanaco (Lama guanicoe) is a camelid native to South America and is closely related to the Llama. Guanacos live in herds of females, their young, and a dominant male. Bachelor males form separate herds. While reproductive groups tend to remain small, often containing no more than 10 adults, bachelor herds may contain as many as 50 males. When they feel threatened, Guanacos alert the herd to flee with a high-pitched, bleating call. The male usually runs behind the herd to defend them.