Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine National Park: Experts explain the reasons behind the increase in Puma sightings

According to specialists, one reason would be the species' familiarity to visitors. Additionally, they outlined the areas with the highest density of specimens and announced that they are working on regulations to supervise this type of tourism.

Written by: Claudio Torres R.

  February, 2020.- 
   Over the last few days, photographic and audiovisual material has been circulating on social networks, documenting cougar sightings in Torres del Paine National Park. An example is the video published by photographer and tour guide Felipe Roman on his Facebook account, which shows a cougar waiting for its two cubs to cross one of the main routes in the Park. This scene was witnessed by several people from very close proximity.

Has there been an increase in cougar sightings in the area? In a conversation with Emol, Michael Arcos, the Technical Coordinator and Park Ranger of CONAF (National Forest Corporation), explained that indeed, more specimens have been spotted lately. He added that this is mainly due to two reasons:

As a result of the 2005 forest fire, tall vegetation was reduced, providing fewer obstacles for cougars to hide. Additionally, there are more people in the park equipped with better means to record sightings," Arcos concluded.

Couple of Pumas 
Image: La Prensa Austral
For her part, the head of Conservación y Diversidad Biológica of the Departamento de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas of Magallanes Region, Alejandra Silva, added a third reason: a greater familiarity of these animals with people. 'The Puma is more used to the human being because it does not feel threatened, so it lets itself be seen a little more and does not have the instinct to move away,' said Silva.

Likewise, the Veterinarian, and former General Coordinator of Fauna Invasora of the Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero de Magallanes, José Cabello, said that 'tourism' in previous years made this new relationship between the wild felids and travelers possible.

'Pumas born in 2004, when tourism began, are the adults that we can see now, they are used to seeing people. It is a friendly human presence that does not hunt and kill them, so they respond as they respond to any element of the landscape,' he said.

The experts unanimously advise that when encountering a cougar, one should not run away or turn one's back on it. It is recommended to always travel in compact groups when in the area.  


Higher density areas

Although experts did not provide data on the estimated number of Pumas currently inhabiting the Nature Reserve, they acknowledge the presence of 'a high density' of these felids in certain areas, with sightings possible throughout the park.

Silva, who conducts an annual census of the species in Torres del Paine, notes that 'the peninsula'—referring to the area between Lakes Sarmiento, Nordenskjold, and Pehoe—has the highest density of Pumas, making sightings more frequent there.

Arcos also included the 'Sendero Aonikenk' (Aonikenk Trail) on the list as a common residence for Pumas. This underscores that Pumas can be spotted throughout the reserve, except in inhospitable areas.

"The density in that place is higher, but the Puma's potential territory is almost the entire park, with the exception of high mountain areas, glaciers, and lakes, of course," said the park ranger.

Cabello also identified some private areas with a large population of Pumas, which could be earmarked for tourism involving these animals. "Estancia Laguna Amarga, Cerro Paine, and Cerro Guido are areas of frequent Puma sightings," said the veterinarian, a specialist in native species.

Upcoming Regulations 

Carlos Olave, coordinator of the Cequa Foundation, informed Emol that they are working on creating a proposal to regulate the sighting of cougars as a tourist activity, a document that will be submitted to Conaf.

Although it has not yet been reviewed by the respective authority, the researcher provided Emol with some potential safety guidelines that will be included in the proposal and could be integrated into the current security system of the reserve.

* Responsibility: Visitors to the areas inhabited by cougars must be informed that they are potentially dangerous animals, carrying implicit risks that visitors should be aware of. 
* Observation distance: A minimum distance of 50 meters is suggested. 
* Number of people per sighting: Tourist groups should not exceed seven or eight people, as larger groups could affect the animals' behavior. 
* Maximum observation time: This should not exceed eight consecutive hours, divided among the groups visiting the areas in a single day.
* Equipment: Visitors should avoid wearing multicolored clothing to prevent disturbance to the landscape.