It was a nice hike to find this Puma family – mother and her three, one-year old cubs – resting on a rocky out crop. Close by was the remains of a newly-born Guanaco. The family were clearly satiated since the untouched body of another newly-born Guanaco lay at the foot of the outcrop. Eventually they moved off to their favoured resting pace for the day – the shore of Lago Sarmiento. This lake gives its name to this female Puma. We were fortunate that our time in Torres del Paine coincided with the short period over which all the Guanco give birth. So there was ample opportunity for the Pumas to hunt. We were to see this family a few times during our stay in Torres del Paine; an impressively beautiful place.
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 tip, and females average 2.05m. 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.
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.
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 at this time females are more often seen during daylight as they hunt to feed the cubs. 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 stay with their mothers for around two years.