Rediscovering Bagual: tracking pumas through the winter snow

As top predator, the puma has an influence, whether direct or indirect, over almost every component of the Patagonian ecosystem.  VHF radio and GPS collars allow Conservación Patagónica wildlife experts to monitor and understand the interactions between pumas and both endangered huemul deer and livestock.  However, putting a collar on a wily puma is no easy feat.  Winter’s snows make tracking possible, but even then, the challenges are noteworthy.

The diverse talents of the wildlife team have made for landmark successes in puma monitoring and research this winter. In the last few months the team has made great progress, collaring eight new pumas and monitoring the movements of 20 collared pumas in total.  In his most recent report, Cristián Saucedo, Conservación Patagónica’s Conservation Director, details the team’s most recent capture mission: to recapture a tough old male puma, originally collared for first time in 2009, named “Bagual.”   Cristián and the team had an exciting reunion with a ten year old cat with teeth as long as his years.

Here’s the story, straight from Cristián’s August 19th report:

“We have been pursuing the intense and demanding project of capturing pumas on horseback, covering vast sections of the Chacabuco Valley, particularly the 18 Chico, Cuadro Las Vacas, 18 Grande, Valle Guanacos and Lago Gutiérrez sections.  Some days are very cold and windy, and other days are rainy, forcing our soaked, freezing team indoors.

In the Lago Gutiérrez section of the park, we found fresh tracks from a large puma, and we started tracking.  The dogs lost the trail (there wasn’t enough snow cover), but thanks to Arcilio’s experience (he’s our top puma tracker) and the tenacity of the dogs, they were able to pick up the scent and find the cat, which was sleeping in a thicket of lenga trees.

The puma ran out from below the trees, and we could see that not only was it a very large puma, but it was also already wearing a collar.  After several escapades, as the puma ran us in circles on the pursuit, the puma launched himself into a thicket where we could barely see him, let alone target him with the tranquilizer gun.  It took us more than four hours to make the shot simply because we couldn’t get a clear line of sight.

The good news is that we had recaptured this male called “Bagual,” a 74Kg male who we guess to be over 10 years old (based on the state of his teeth!).  Bagual’s GPS had become inactive 2 years ago, so his recapture was a major accomplishment for our research.

Bagual presents a good example of the great distances that male pumas will travel—his territory stretches over thirty thousand hectares!  This range encompasses about half of the Chacabuco Valley.  Males like Bagual are very hard to track because they can move so far in a single day—but they are also especially important to monitor, as their movements influence the action of other pumas.  Two years ago, we spent more than twelve days trying to recapture Bagual, even with the help of GPS satellite data.

So, the capture of Bagual makes for very good news this month.  Thanks to the talent and perserverance of the capture team—and a little bit of luck—we were able to accomplish an outstanding goal.  As you can see in the photo, we all smiled with the joy of having reunited with Bagual after so many years.

The strength of our team has led to the capture of eight pumas this season, an excellent accomplishment to report!”

One thought on “Rediscovering Bagual: tracking pumas through the winter snow

  1. Claudia De La Mora
    Sunday September 9th, 2012 at 09:39 PM

    Hola a todos!

    Me encanta saber que se han podido reencontrar con un compañero de su equipo de investigación. Es un milagro! Después de tantos años y sin modo alguno de rastrear sus pasos, resulta casi imposible el creer que esta reunión hubiese sido posible.
    Felicitaciones a quienes contribuyeron a que este sueño se hiciera realidad!
    Siempre estoy buscando historias de interés para mis alumnos de “Spanish IV Honors” y estoy segura de que esta historia será de su total agrado.

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