Friday, March 31, 2017

Falls and Flows of "Sur Chico"

Greetings Everyone,
We are back on the mainland exploring Chile's Lake District.  On March 13 after leaving Chiloé Island we headed to Puerto Varas, a touristy town on the shore of Lake Llanquihue northeast of Puerto Montt.

It was drizzling in the morning and we couldn't decide on the day's activities so we ended up driving to Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. Created in 1926, it is the oldest park in the country. At the end of the road was Lago Todos los Santos and a short distance away were the Petrohué River Falls that cut through the basaltic lava created by past eruptions of Osorno Volcano.

Petrohué River Falls

To get a closer look at the volcano we drove up the road toward a ski area at its base.  The clouds had cleared and we had good views.

Osorno Volcano

When we reached the ski area the chair lifts were running.  We didn't have much time so we bought tickets to ride up.  I hadn't been on a chairlift in awhile so being so high off the ground was a bit scary.

On the Chairlift to Osorno Volcano

We rode one, got off and had to ride a second to the top.  We were still 3200 feet below the summit of 8701 feet.  We climbed about 200 feet to a final viewpoint.  A lenticular cloud formed over the summit, cool from this vantage point but the wind would be howling above.

Lenticular Cloud over Osorno Volcano

The clouds were building all around us so it was time to head back.  On the ride down, the volcano became completely obscured by clouds so our timing was good.

Clouds Building Below Us

The next stop on our "Sur Chico" Tour was the Hulio-Hulio Biological Reserve, a private natural reserve and ecotourism project in southern Chile. The reserve was created in 1999 and includes 600 square kilometers (232 sq mi) of native forest in Chile dedicated to wildlife conservation and tourism. The reserve is owned by the businessman Víctor Petermann who bought it in the 1990s. I was hoping to see more mammals here but they were elusive and rarely seen. We enjoyed a few short hikes to check out some of the impressive waterfalls along the Fuy River. The Hulio-Hulio Falls plunged 130-feet giving us a spectacular view.

Hulio-Hulio Falls

On to Pucón, the adventure capital of "Sur Chico" where Villarrica Volcano, one of Chile's most active, loomed over town. "Could I climb it?" I wondered so we checked in at Pucón Adventura to find out.  The young guy at the front counter replied "no problem" when I asked how hard it was to climb. He told me "if a 78-year Chinese man could do it so could I" and we signed up for Sunday's excursion.

The following day we drove to Huerquehue National Park to do a warm-up hike.  Our objective was San Sebastián Volcano but after climbing about 2000 feet we decided to save some energy for tomorrow.  We stopped in a high meadow for lunch where strange-looking trees grew.  They were evergreens with thick pointed leaves.  They looked like Joshua trees on steroids or maybe Morticia's pet plant, Cleopatra, on the Adams Family TV show.  We guessed that they might be Monkey Puzzle Trees.

San Sebastián Volcano

We were up at 5:00 the following morning for the big climb. We drove to Pucón Adventura and were among the first to arrive around 6:15.  We were sent upstairs to get our stuff.  In addition to boots, which were different than the ones we tried on yesterday, and gaiters we were given a pack with crampons, rain pants and jacket, a diaper (more on that later), plastic sheet for glissading, gloves, outer mitts and a gas mask!  So much stuff... I added my personal gear and my pack was heavier than I'd like.  We were introduced to the 4 guides for our group of 11 clients.  The other climbers came trickling in and we piled into a van for the drive to a ski area at the base of the volcano.  We unloaded and were given the choice to walk up from the parking lot or take the chairlift.  We opted for the lift along with 2 of the guides and 4 climbers.  There were lots of other groups starting out with us.  It would be crowded on the mountain.

Start of the Climb

The chairlift moved swiftly cutting off 1200 feet of climbing but we still had 3300 feet to go.  We unloaded and began the climb.  It was straightforward at first passing the ruins of a chairlift destroyed by an eruption in 1971.

Damaged Lift House

We were taken under the wing of the senior guide Elias.  Being by far the oldest in our group and maybe on the mountain I think he expected us to be slow and we were.  However we were steady and when the others stopped for a break we kept on going.  Elias liked this.  Two French guys joined us as their group was moving too slow behind us.  In about 1500 feet we reached the glacier.

At the Toe of the Glacier

Elias put on our crampons and we pulled out our ice axes.  The first pitch was on a side slope and steep.  I didn't like it.  Elias told me to relax.  It wasn't that hard but my anxiety was getting the better of me.  We kept climbing steadily and I began to get into the rhythm. The others stopped but we just took a short break for water.  There were a few more steep pitches but by now I had calmed down and convinced myself that I just might make it to the top.

1st Pitch Up the Glacier

We reached the end of the glacier where we took off our crampons and packs and left them with many others.  The last pitch was an easy climb on a path worn free of scree.  As we approached the summit we had to put on our gas masks, the sulfuric fumes were that strong.  We were the first of our group to reach the top around noon.  Elias was happy.  He kept saying our pace was good.  Yes, we know. 


We walked to the rim and peered over.  We could see the glowing red magma crater about 1000 feet below.  Cool!  The volcano burped red lava and Marc got a photo.

Volcano's Burp

We left the rim to enjoy the view of the other volcanoes piercing the clouds but I wanted to see the lava again so went to the rim once more.  We were on the summit for about 15 minutes before heading down.  I had trouble finding my pack.  There were so many piled about since we had left them behind.  We had a sandwich before getting geared up for the glissade down.  I wanted to walk down but it wasn't an option.  We put on our rain pants and jacket, our diaper, hung the plastic sled from our waist belts and put on our overmits.  The diaper was a heavy nylon pad for keeping snow out of our pants as we glissaded down.

It was time to descend but I wasn't ready.  I couldn't quite figure out how to use the ice ax as a brake. Elias' instructions seemed simple enough - "Ok, sit down in the chute, keep your legs straight, keep your ice ax point out to the side so you don't impale yourself, use the tip of the ice ax to brake, hold it near the end, don't drop it, don't crash into the person in front of you, hope the person behind you doesn't crash into you and off you go!".  It wasn't that hard once I got the hang of it.  I remember doing it once before long ago.

Peggy's Glissade

We glissaded down 5 pitches of 400-500 feet of various steepness.  When it wasn't too steep, we used the plastic sled to make us go faster.  Mine didn't work and I stopped sliding so had to use my feet to crawl down like an inchworm.  We made it down 2000 feet in no time.  I must admit it was easier than walking down with crampons and much safer.  The routes up and down were different so you didn't having to worry about colliding with someone coming up.  The guides kept the glissaders out of trouble.  Once off the glacier we removed all of our glissade gear off and walked down in thick scree.  It broke your stride so was much easier on the knees. 

Down the Scree Slopes

We were first up in our group but among the last down. We reached the van around 3:30. Yea! We climbed Villarrica, one of the most active volcanoes in Chile!

Our Villarrica Volcano Hiking Route

We decided to drive to Temuco, the final stop in our Lake District Tour, by way of Conguillío National Park. We enjoyed views of the lava fields from past eruptions of Llaima Volcano, one of the largest and most active volcanoes in Chile.  At 10,253 feet it is about 900 feet higher than Villarrica.

Llaima Volcano

We stopped at Lago Verde where we had lunch.  A little further we stopped to view Lago Arciris, a lake that had been formed when the lava formed a dam and flooded the forest.  We then drove through a grove of Araucaria araucana (commonly called the Monkey Puzzle Tree). 

Araucaria araucana (commonly called the Monkey Puzzle Tree). 

It is an evergreen tree growing up to 100–130 ft in height. It is native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina.  Araucaria araucana is the hardiest species in the conifer genus Araucaria.  Because of the longevity of this species, it is described as a living fossil.  It is also the national tree of Chile. Its conservation status was changed to endangered by the IUCN in 2013 due to the dwindling population.  The leaves are thick, tough and triangular with sharp tips.  

Monkey Puzzle Tree Leaves

We arrived in Temuco around 5:00 and checked into our hotel for our final night in the Lake District. We enjoyed exploring this region of lush farmland, dense temperate rainforest, snowcapped volcanoes, plunging waterfalls and deep, clear lakes.  We highly recommend a road trip to this accessible area.  You won't be disappointed!
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

Chile Mammal List:

 No. Species Scientific Name  Notes
 1  European Hare  Lepus europaeus Jeinimeni, Chacabuco, Estancia San  Lorenzo, Torres del Paine 
 2  Culpeo Fox Lycalopex  culpaeus Jeinimeni 
 3  Guanaco Lama guanicoe Chacabuco, Torres del Paine
 4  South American Gray  Fox (Chilla)  Lycalopex griseus Torres del Paine
 5  Patagonian Hog-nosed  Skunk Conepatus  humboldtii Torres del Paine
 6  Puma Puma concolor Torres del Paine
 7  Huemul  Hippocamelus  bisulcu Torres del Paine
 8  South American Sea  Lion Otaria flavescens Chiloe
 9  Peale's Dolphin Lagenorhynchus  australis  Chiloe
 10  Southern Pudu  Pudu puda Chepu, Parque Tepuhueico, Parque  Tantauco 
 11  Southern River Otter Lontra provocax Chepu
 12 Marine Otter Lontra felina Puñihuil
 13  Coypu (Nutria) Myocastor coypus Chepu
 14  Güiña or Kodkod Leopardus guigna Parque Tepuhueico
 15  Darwin's Fox Lycalopex fulvipes Chepu, Parque Tepuhueico, Parque  Tantauco
 16  Monitos Del Monte Dromiciops  gliroides Parque Tepuhueico

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Many Surprises of Chiloé!

Greetings Everyone,
Islands are known to harbor endemic and unusual wildlife and Chiloé Island off the southern coast of Chile looked like the perfect place to search for rarities. We flew from Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt on March 6, picked up our rental car and drove to Pargua where we boarded the ferry to Chiloé Island.

Taking the Ferry to Chiloé

We got our first view of Chiloé's amazing wildlife during the crossing, South American Sea Lions.

South American Sea Lion

As we were nearing the island, a pod of Peale's Dolphins greeted us, thrilling us with their acrobatic moves.

Peale's Dolphins

Our first destination was Chepu Adventures Ecolodge located on the northwest coast of Chiloé at the confluence of the Puntra and Grande Rivers which combine to form the Chepu River. We were greeted by Juan our host and settled into our cozy cabin. As we returned to our abode after dinner we spotted a Southern Pudú, the world's smallest deer, just outside our cabin! This particular male with a broken antler is known to frequent the lodge. The Southern Pudú is listed as near threatened due to habitat loss and hunting.

Southern Pudú

Early the next morning we set off in a kayak to watch the sun rise over the sunken forest. I must admit it was a bit scary kayaking in the dark especially when we reached the forest. I couldn't see a way through the maze of submerged tree trunks which formed when the Chepu Valley flooded following the 1960 tsunami and earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded! We waited until it got light enough to find a way around.

Sunken Forest

We were hoping to spot a Southern River Otter, probably the world's rarest otter, or a Coypu but saw none. We returned to the lodge for breakfast and at 10:00 we arranged to go back out in a motor boat to continue our search for the otters. Javier, a local fisherman who now brings tourists out in search of wildlife picked us up at the dock. We motored down the Chepu River and into the Coluco Lagoon but sadly found no otters or coypus. As we were returning, I asked Javier if he could take us up the Puntra River where we had kayaked earlier and he agreed. About 3 km past the lodge, Javier spotted an otter swimming along the shore!

Southern River Otter

She entertained us for 40 minutes as she swam along the bank catching crabs and eating them sometimes while floating on her back! We returned to the lodge, elated that we had such a great encounter with this endangered mammal.

Southern River Otter

Female Southern River Otter

Later that afternoon we drove to Puñihuil to visit a colony of Humbolt and Magellanic Penguins. The surf was a bit rough and I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to go out but the local fisherman had an ingenious way to get tourists into the boats. We were pushed out in a high-wheeled cart! It looked silly but kept us dry as we boarded the boat for our excursion.

Getting to the Boat

At this time of year most of the penguins had gone out to sea but there were a few stragglers still molting their chick-down before they could take to the water. Both species look very similar but the Humbolt Penguins have one dark breast band while the Magellanic have two.

Magellanic and Humbolt Penguins

We also spotted a Marine Otter but the surf was too rough for a photo. We returned to the lodge for dinner and another peaceful night. We had arranged to go out with Javier again the next morning but he canceled due to forecasted bad weather. When we woke up it was clearer than expected and we scrambled to find someone to take us out. Javier ended up taking us and we found a second female Southern River Otter further upriver!

Second Southern River Otter

We were hoping that Javier could take us back to the Coluco Lagoon at 5:00 to look for coypus but he was busy. Fortunately Juan was able to take us in the lodge's small motor boat. As we set off the skies were clearing but we could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. Were we being foolhearty boating on a lake in a metal boat doing a lightning storm? We pressed on encountering rain showers but fortunately no nearby electrical storms. When we entered the lagoon most of the weather had passed so we could relax and search for coypus. Juan spotted one far away and another close by grooming on shore.


These rodents look like a cross between a muskrat and a beaver. Originally native to subtropical and temperate South America, it has since been introduced to North America (where it is referred to as a nutria), Europe, Asia, and Africa, primarily by fur ranchers. Coypu have become pests in many of these areas, destroying aquatic vegetation, marshes, and irrigation systems, and chewing through human-made items, eroding river banks, and displacing native animals. It was nice to see them in their natural range where they're not considered vermin.

They next day we left Chepu Adventures after a very productive stay and drove south toward the city of Castro. Our next destination was Hotel Tephuhueico which we were expecting to reach by car but we received an email stating that all the recent rain had made a bridge to the hotel unsafe. We now had to drive further south to Lake Tepuhueico where a boat would pick us up and take us to the hotel. Frustratingly it was only 10:00 and the boat wouldn't be available until 4:00 PM. We killed sometime in Castro before heading to the rendezvous point. The directions were somewhat cryptic so we couldn't find the location. We were out of cellphone range so had to drive back toward the main highway to call for clarification. We decided to stay put until we got word that the boat was on its way and would proceed to the first location where the road reaches the lake. When we arrived we could see a tiny open boat bobbing in the waves. We were skeptical about crossing the lake in such inclement weather. A guy got out and in broken English told us we'd have to wait another 2 hours for the wind to die down! Resigned to our fate, I reclined the car seat and fell asleep. I was abruptly awoken and told that it was calm enough to attempt the crossing. We scrambled to put on our raingear and stuffed our duffel bags and packs into garbage bags for the wet crossing. The wind, rain and waves hampered our progress but slowly we puttered across the lake. Finally around 5:00 we arrived at Hotel Tepuhueico. Set in a 20,000-hectare private reserve of temperate rainforest, the hotel seemed out of place but we were happy to have finally arrived.

Hotel Tepuhueico

After dinner we set off on a night walk with our local guide to look for nocturnal animals but only spotted a lone Pudú. The next morning we set off before sunrise to search again and spotted another Pudú, possibly the same one from last night.

Male Pudú

After breakfast I was on the deck scanning for wildlife. I glimpsed at what looked like a cat's tail disappear behind the hydrangea bush next to the front steps of the hotel! I grabbed my camera and binoculars, stopped off at our room to tell Marc and went out in search of the animal.  I stayed within sight of the front door and when Marc came out I thought he saw me and I continued my search. Nothing. Suddenly a black cat, the size of a house cat strolls across the open lawn! I couldn't believe my eyes. He was so calm. I snapped a few photos with my camera but where was Marc? 

Mellanistic Guigna or Kodkod

He was on the road and I couldn't call him without frightening the cat. The kodkod disappeared in the bushes and finally Marc showed up. I asked if the cat had reappeared on the road but it didn't. When we showed my photos to Alexis, the hotel manager, he confirmed that it was a Guigna or Kodkod, the smallest cat in the Americas! I was thrilled to have seen it and taken some photos but bummed that Marc missed it. He hadn't seen me and went looking for me on the road. Alexis kept saying how lucky I was. He's been here for 3 months and has only seen it once!

In the early evening I resumed my scans from the deck. I spotted a Darwin's Fox! This time Marc was with me. The fox was just outside the front door! We sat on the steps to photograph him. He was close. At one point I thought he was going to come inside. Alexis joined us and kept telling us how lucky we were. 

Darwin's Fox

Up until 2008 Darwin's Fox was classified as critically endangered based on an estimated population size of less than 250 mature individuals. New distribution information indicates that the extent of occurrence of the species is much larger than originally thought and the species was downlisted to endangered. No reliable population data is available although foxes seem to be more abundant and to occur at higher densities in Chiloé than on the mainland. A very conservative minimum estimate suggests at least 412 and 227 mature individuals occur on Chiloé and on the mainland, respectively.  It is likely that total population size does not exceed 2,500 mature individuals.

We left Hotel Tepuhueico at 9:30 the following morning. All the aggravation in reaching this place had vanished after our remarkable sightings of three rarely seen mammals! The lake was calm as we motored back to our car. 

Boarding the Boat

We headed further south to continue our exploration of Chiloé Island. Our next destination was Parque Tantauco where we hoped to encounter more wildlife. We drove 18 km on a gravel road to the ranger station at Yaldad where there was a resident Darwin's Fox!

Darwin's Fox at Yaldad

Another 20 km in brought us to the Chaiguata sector and our accommodation for the next two nights. We had booked a domo, a funky structure with a comfy bed and a dry place to escape the rain. 

Our Domo

That night we went in search for the Monito del Monte, a tiny opossum, possibly the world's most primative marsupial but didn't find one. The next day it was raining so we drove to Quellón to look for Chilean Dolphins but didn't spot any. Was our wildlife karma wearing off? We returned to the park passing the Yaldad ranger station. A km beyond a vehicle was parked in the middle of the road and a woman was on the roadside looking at something. We got out of our car to check it out. It was a baby Pudú standing in a stream shivering.

Baby Pudú

I asked the woman if the mother was around and she said no. The guy told Marc that they came upon the baby Pudú running across the road and that it appeared to be injured. Mom wouldn't return if we were standing around so we got in our car to wait as the other couple left. We were there only 5 minutes when an animal appeared on the road. Oh good, the mother has returned or so I thought. It was not Mom but a Darwin's Fox! This did not bode well for the baby Pudú. Maybe the fox wouldn't see it. The fox came over to our car and went underneath. Why? He came back out and headed straight for the baby in the ditch. "Should we intervene?" Marc asked. Even though part of me wanted to stop the fox, I said "no, we have to let nature take its course". The fox grabbed the baby and it let out piercing screams. Marc couldn't bring himself to take a photo and I didn't ask him to. Somehow photographing or videotaping the scene seemed sadistic. Would we be taking pleasure from the poor Pudú's terror and pain? The fox wasn't much bigger than the Pudú and after several attempts to bite it we decided to leave rather than watch the Pudú suffer a slow and agonizing death. About 15 minutes down the road we overcame our shock and regretted our decision not to photograph the scene from a scientific perspective. I'm not sure if a Darwin's Fox attacking a baby Pudú has ever been documented. We drove back to the site but both the fox and Pudú were gone. Good thing. At least the Pudú wasn't suffering any more. A near threatened species dies to sustain an endangered one!

The next morning we saw a female Pudú next to the road and she lingered long enough for Marc to take her photo.

Female Pudú

We passed the scene of yesterday's crime and all was quiet. We stopped at the Yaldad entrance station to tell Victor, the ranger, what we had witnessed yesterday but he wasn't there. The resident Darwin's Fox was snoozing by the picnic tables. He looked too small to be the killer. But wait, there was a second, larger fox we had not seen here before.  Could he be the Pudú hunter we had seen in action?

Pudú Hunter?

We drove north to Chacao to catch a ferry back to the mainland. Our time on Chiloe Island had come to an end. What a great adventure it was, full of surprises and encounters with rare wildlife! Many thanks to Juan and the staff at Chepu Adventures for taking such good care of us during our stay. Thanks to Javier for finding us two Southern River Otters! We're grateful to Alexis and his wife for making our stay at Hotel Tepuhueico comfortable and making it possible for us to see three rare mammals! Thanks to rangers Victor and Sander at Parque Tantauco for lending a helping hand during our visit.

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pumas of Paine!

Greetings Everyone,
We're in Chile after the successful completion of our trek in the Aysen region of Patagonia.  On Feb. 28 we drove back to Balmaceda where we boarded a plane for the 1-hour flight north to Puerto Montt.  The following morning we flew south to Puenta Arenas.  Our final destination was Torres del Paine National Park.  We visited this park back in 1991 before it had become a world-known tourist destination.  Back then there were few roads, no hotels, no tour buses, no campgrounds and very few trekkers.  It was a wild and remote place with the feel of truly being at the end of the Earth.  We were hesitant to return knowing that so much has changed but this time our focus would be entirely different.  We would not be competing with thousands of hikers to do the W Trek or Paine Circuit but instead we would be searching for pumas!

The Puma (Puma concolor) also known as the Mountain Lion, Cougar, Panther and in my home state of Vermont, the Catamount, is the second largest cat in the New World after the Jaguar.  Its range from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes of South America is the greatest of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere.  We were to search for the Puma in the southern end of its distribution where they are said to be larger than their northern cousins.

We met our guide, Rodrigo, and our driver, Daniel, in the Punta Arenas Airport and started the 5-hour drive to the park.  We stopped in Puerto Natales which has grown over the years but we were happy to see that Black-necked Swans still ply the waters of the sound feeding on algae.

Black-necked Swans

We arrived at the park toward dusk.  In 26 years much has changed but our first glimpse of the Torres del Paine remained as spectacular as ever!

1st View of Torres Del Paine

We would use the Hotel Las Torres as our base.  It was built in 1992 with just 8 rooms.  It now has 84 rooms, a massive bar, restaurant and spa!  

Hotel Las Torres

Early the next morning while most of the other guests were sleeping we headed out in search of Pumas.  On the drive out we encountered a Patagonian Hog-nosed Skunk foraging along the road. 

Patagonian Hog-nosed Skunk

We left the Park and met our puma tracker Roberto.  He is one of about 6 trackers who work in and around Torres del Paine.  It would be impossible to find these elusive cats without the expertise of the trackers.  Over many years they have come to know where the cats hang out and their behaviors.  Since puma tracking became more restrictive in the Park in 2015, most tours operate on the adjoining private estancias.  We had been given special permission by the owners to explore Estancia Laguna Amarga.  The area comprised by the northern coast of Sarmiento Lake, Laguna Amarga and Laguna Azulejo is well-known for having one of the largest concentrations of Pumas in the wild.

We drove up a dirt track to near the top of a ridge where we parked the cars and climbed to a rocky outcrop to scan for pumas.  We didn't see any but spotted a lone South American Grey Fox or Chilla below.  Roberto went off to scout and we checked out an old guanaco carcass being scavenged by 4 Chillas.  There was a pecking order among the foxes and when one didn't wait its turn it got reprimanded by the dominant fox. 

South American Grey Foxes or Chillas

A White-throated Caracara waited nearby for its chance to feed but the foxes didn't give the bird an opportunity.

White-throated Caracara

Roberto returned and said he had found 2 fresh young guanaco kills and that the puma would return in the late afternoon.  We checked out a few more areas for pumas before returning empty-handed to the hotel for lunch.

We headed out again around 3:00, met Roberto and returned to the guanaco kills.  They had been scavenged by condors and their bones scattered.  We waited just below a rocky outcrop while Roberto went scouting.  He radioed us that he had found a puma!  We rushed off to his location and sure enough a beautiful puma was walking along the base of a rocky cliff.  

1st Puma View

We followed her to the kills where she looked disgusted at their disturbance.  She didn't bother feeding but moved on.  Rodrigo went ahead to photograph her and stopped to look through his viewfinder not noticing her approach to within 3 meters of him.  She wasn't stalking him but he just happened to be near her path as she walked by.

Female Puma

We followed her for about 40 minutes taking many photos and enjoying the encounter.  Roberto said she was a four year-old female that has not yet had cubs.  Below we could see many hikers on a trail totally oblivious that a puma was watching them from above!  We returned to the lodge thrilled with our first puma encounter.

Hikers Below the Puma

The next morning we went to a different area, a road along Lago Sarmiento.  The road was closed due to construction but we had permission to enter.  Roberto had found a fresh guanaco kill that had not been touched!  We parked near it and waited and waited but only a chilla arrived to claim the prize.  

A Chilla at a Fresh Guanaco Kill

We waited four hours at the carcass while Roberto went off to watch another section of road.  Finally Roberto called to say that he found 3 pumas and we drove to his location.  A female with 2 four-and-a-half-month old cubs had emerged from under a bush!

Female Puma with 2 Cubs

Females reach sexual maturity at the age of one-and-a-half to three years and give birth to a litter of cubs every 2 to 3 years.  After about a 3-month gestation, 1 to 6 cubs (typically 2) are born.  These cubs are now old enough to visit kill sites and go on forays with mom but are still too young to hunt on their own.  They will stay with their mother until they are around two years old when they will leave to establish their own territories. We watched until the female got up and headed off.  We drove hoping to get in front of her but she disappeared in the vegetation.  Roberto later found her and we followed her on foot as she retraced her path overlooking Lago Sarmiento.

Female Puma Overlooking Lago Sarmiento

She rejoined her cubs on some rocks near the shore of the lake.  It was then we noticed her licking her right front paw.  Through my binoculars I could see that it was bleeding.  

Female Puma Licking Her Right Front Paw

Oh no!  What happened?  Had she stepped on a sharp rock, glass, barbed wire?  All were possible but more importantly could she still hunt and provide for herself and her cubs?  We didn't notice her limping when we were following her so hopefully it was only a superficial wound and would heal fast.  We left the family lounging peacefully in the last rays of sunshine and returned to the carcass down the road.

Puma Family Resting in the Afternoon Sun

Other than the grey fox nothing had touched it.  I jokingly said we should bring it to the wounded mom and cubs.  We set up our camera trap on a tripod made of sticks to see if the puma who made the kill would return during the night. 

Setting Up the Camera Trap

We returned to the carcass the following morning to get our camera trap.  Marc reviewed the videos on his laptop.  Disappointingly the puma had not returned to its kill and the only visitors last night were 3 chillas.  It would remain a mystery as to why a puma would expend the energy to kill a full-grown guanaco and not eat it.

We scanned for the puma family but did not see them.  We left the area and returned to the small pond we visited on the first day.  Roberto had spotted a lone puma high on the ridge.  It was already getting close to noon so we returned to the lodge for a lunch break.  We returned to the "pond pullout" where Roberto had stayed to keep an eye on the puma.  The plan was that we'd drive around to the backside of the ridge, climb to the top and then down to see if we could intercept the puma.  Rodrigo would keep an eye on the puma from below and radio us its position.  Daniel drove us around with Roberto and the 4 of us climbed to the top of the ridge.  As we cautiously hiked down Rodrigo radioed that there were 4 pumas!  The lone puma was a female with three nearly 1-year-old cubs!   

Female Puma and 3 Cubs

The mom and 2 of the cubs were wary and slinked off to hide after spotting us on the ridge above them.  One of the cubs could care less and laid out in the open as we approached within 30 meters.  

Puma Cub

A second cub got brave and joined her.  We think we were looking at a female and male cub.  

Male and Female Cubs

The mom reappeared and we could now see she had something white hanging from her mouth!  At first I thought she was eating but now it looked like a piece of bone stuck in her lip. 

Female Puma with Bone in her Mouth

Oh no!  Another mom was injured and potentially unable to hunt for her cubs.  Roberto said this is the first time he's encountered mothers with injuries.  Bummer.  We watched the family for a while before they headed off along the ridge below us.  

Puma Family on the Ridge

We did not follow as we did not want to stress the injured mother.  By this time we noticed that Daniel had left and driven back to Rodrigo's position.  Why had he left us?  Rodrigo radioed that Daniel had a nearly-flat tire and had returned to change it.  We decided to hike down rather than wait for Daniel to drive back up and get us.  Roberto stopped at the farm owner's house to let him know about the injured puma.  Hopefully he can work with the park officials to intervene on her behalf if possible.  We'll be in touch with Roberto to get updates on the two injured female pumas.

The View Below the Ridge

The following morning we said goodbye to Roberto and promised to send photos of the injured female pumas so he could follow up with the park officials.  We left the park around 10:00  for the drive back to Punta Arenas.  We drove through the park enjoying partially obscured views of the Cuernos. 

The Cuernos

We stopped at the Lake Pehoe campground to look for the Large Hairy Armadillo.  It had been spotted yesterday but we did not find it.  We did see some some good birds including a Plumbeous Rail. 

Plumbeous Rail

We continued on and spotted a very tame female huemul by the entrance to the Explora Hotel.  The Huemul or South Andean Deer is an endangered species of deer endemic to Chile and Argentina.  Conservation efforts are underway to combat habitat fragmentation and poaching.  A guy who works at the hotel stopped in his van to tell us not to pet the deer.  Apparently some crazy tourists have attempted to do so.

Female Huemul

We arrived in Punta Arenas around 6:00 and checked into our hotel. A lot has changed in Torres del Paine National Park over the last 26 years.  I can't say I'm happy with all the development that has gone on and the large number of tourists that visit annually. It's such an amazing place that no wonder so many people want to experience it. There is one positive change however, the number of pumas in the park area is increasing. Adjoining estancia owners who once persecuted the cats now protect them as they are worth more alive than dead. Tourists such as ourselves are willing to pay to see the pumas so it's a win-win situation for us, the estancia owners and the pumas. What a thrill to have such long and close encounters with 8 individuals! I hope the puma tours continue to be conducted in a way that keeps both the cats and tourists safe. 

A big thank you to our puma tracker Roberto who found 8 of these magnificent cats for us.  He taught us how to safely approach the pumas without disturbing them.  Thanks to our guide Rodrigo for keeping things running smoothly and assisting Roberto.  Finally, thanks to Daniel for the long drives to and from the Park and keeping our vehicles running.  What a great Puma Tracking Team!

The Puma Tracking Team (Roberto, Rodrigo, Marc, Peggy and Daniel)

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map: