A PUMA AND HER CUBS, NATURE TAKES IT’S ULTIMATE TOLL
Torres del Paine National Park,
Magallanes Region XII, Chile. 23/07/2018
I have decided to take some time off from searching for and filming the Pumas, not in least tired or bored with the species or location, just felt the need to distance myself and take a step back to reflect on what I have witnessed and filmed these last few months, here in the Torres del Paine National Park.
On a sad note, it has come to pass that my favourite female and her 4 cubs, the first female with cubs I encountered on my first day in the park, and one whose path I crossed and filmed on several occasions, have not survived the winter, for reasons that are still unclear and might well remain so unless her body is found in the future and her cause of death can be determined, the cubs, at 5 months are unable to hunt for themselves, so they will obviously suffer the fate of starvation. There is a film crew in the park, who like myself have been filming her and a number of other cats in the region between Lake Sarmiento and Laguna Amarga and the Laguna de los CIscnes.
The female was known to have been having a hard time hunting due in the most part to a lack of her main prey species the Guanaco being very low in numbers in her territory, as well as just being unsuccessful when hunting, as only about 1 in 7or 8 attempts at hunting result in a kill. So this combination saw our female without food for herself and her 4 hungry cubs for over a week, but more alarming was the fact the long periods of time the female was absent and not returning to the cubs. Both myself and members of the Wild Chile film crew had spotted the cubs in the same general location many days in a row, but the female was nowhere to be seen.
The last time I saw the female with her cubs was the 27th of June, when I had picked them up crossing the road and followed them as they headed in the general direction of Lake Sarmiento, during this hour spent following them one of the cubs decided to cross a frozen lake, and luckily for me I was rounding one end of it when it meandered out to the centre, patiently waiting for it’s mother and the other cubs to follow, which sadly for me they did not, opting to stick to the shore, so the cub wandered closer to them in the hope of enticing them out, but to no avail, the cub eventually gave up and plodded off to. The far side and eventually joined up with the rest of it’s family. I was to see the cubs on a couple of occasions after that, but sadly it was to be my last time filming the female, and for the cubs the outcome was inevitable.
On 3 more occasions over the following week I located the cubs, but it became painfully apparent they were in trouble, and I could not find it in me to observe them or film them. Another few passed and I was out for an evening drive with my old friend and long serving park ranger Jose Vargas, when he stopped the car as he wanted to know where the cubs had been spending so much time awaiting their mothers return, and sure enough about 800mtrs away we could pick out the 4 desperate, and no doubt totally confused cubs sitting huddled on the same hillside I had seen them on in the last dozen or so days, it broke my heart to see them, and Jose thought I was going to head over and film them, but words were not needed for him to realise after he glanced in my direction, that I just wanted to get away from that particular spot.
As for our females failure to return, this could have been the result of her suffering an injury while hunting, and as the time wore on without her making a kill, her strength and stamina would decline, weakening and slowing her down, making her more susceptible to an injury. A full grown Guanaco can weigh up to about 190 kilos far heavier than a female, so an attack that resulted in her getting rolled on by all that weight could have caused a broken leg or paw, cracked ribs, or it could be she simply abandoned the cubs, as this is known to occur, but for what reeason. ? Lack of luck hunting, or was she in heat and again and being followed by males looking to mate, maybe I will find the carcass on my future treks in the region, and we might one day know the reason. The cubs are, I have no doubt by now, died from starvation, and I believe it will not be difficult to locate them as they were sticking together on a daily basis in the same basic area for almost 2 weeks.
Their 5 month old bodies will provide food the parks scavengers, the Grey Foxes, Crested Caracara’s and Andean Condor, the soaring leviathan of the Andes, if they are quick enough to spot the them. It is natures way, and after three and a half years living in the park, one would think it would be easy to accept nature’s way and all that entails, but these beautiful, and sadly much persecuted cats, gave me much joy, to trek observe and film, they got under my skin, and I was hoping the 4 cubs would all make it to adulthood, and eventually start families of their own, whose offspring I would continue to film on future trips in years to come, but this will not come to pass with this family, but I know the offspring of the parks other females will provide that glorious opportunity, and I will, as I have with this beautiful female and her precious offspring, revel in the opportunity of filming these most beautiful of cats here at the Fin Del Mundo in deepest Patagonia.