Seeing a puma borders on impossible. Many of us who have lived in the Chacabuco Valley have never seen one at all, or at most have spotted a tail slipping off into the bushes. Hunting by night, notoriously stealthy, pumas have a way of eluding sight. Impressively large paw prints and scattered remnants of guanacos and other prey offer the most visible signs of these mighty top predators.
Gathering data about how pumas hunt and where they move requires using more sophisticated techniques than trying to observe them in person. Most of our puma monitoring work relies on GPS/ Argos collars to record pumas’ movements and predations—key data for understanding how pumas interact both with the threatened huemul deer and with neighbors’ livestock.
Camera traps supplement this GPS project, allowing us to gather more specific records of how pumas behave at kill sites. In addition, these photographs and videos show us whether or not these pumas have collars yet—key information for the next phase of our puma study, when we will increase the number of pumas we monitor.
Arcilio Sepulveda, the park ranger in charge of puma tracking, noticed a high level of puma activity—that is, numerous guanaco kill sites—in the La Cerrillada sector of the park, near the Chacabuco River. Since pumas return to kill sites several nights in a row to feed, the wildlife team decided to install a camera trap near one of the fresh carcasses.
As expected, the camera trap gathered proof of the night’s feast . Somewhat surprisingly, more than one puma visited the site. These pumas, most likely, were a family unit of mother and young feeding together. These cats do not seem to have collars already; in the upcoming months, the wildlife team will work to track and collar them.
The wildlife team plans to continue gathering data through using camera traps as they wait for enough snow to accumulate on the ground so that they can track and collar more pumas this winter.