Torres del Paine National Park

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

According to specialists, one of them would be the familiarity of the species to visitors. In addition, they detailed the areas with the highest density of specimens and announced that are working on regulations to supervise this type of tourism.

Written by: Claudio Torres R.

  Feb, 2020.- Over the last few days, photographic and audiovisual material has been circulating on social networks, reporting the sighting of cougars in Torres del Paine National Park. An example is the video published by the 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. The scene was witnessed from very close by several people.

Has there been an increase in cougar sightings in the area? In conversation with Emol, the Technical Coordinator and Park Ranger of CONAF (National Forest Corporation), Michael Arcos, explained that it is true that more specimens have been seen lately, adding that this is mainly for two reasons:

As a result of the 2005 forest fire, tall vegetation was reduced, so there are fewer obstacles for the cougar to hide. And, on the other hand, there are more people in the park with more and better means to take records" added Arcos.

Couple of Pumas at Torres del Paine Park, Chile.
Couple of Pumas 
Image: La Prensa Austral
  For her part, the head of Conservacion y Diversidad Biologica of the "Departmento de Areas 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 Agricola y Ganadero de Magallanes", José Cabello, said that "tourism" in previous years made this new relationship between the wild felines and travelers possible.

"Cougars 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.

Unanimously, the experts point out that when faced with the presence of a cougar, one should not run away or turn one's back on it, and you should always travel the area in compact groups. 


Higher density areas

Cougars in Torres del Paine Park.
  Although experts did not provide data about the estimated number of Pumas that would currently inhabit the Nature Reserve, they do admit the existence of "a high density" of these felines in some areas, although sightings may occur throughout the park. 

Silva, who annually censuses the species in Torres del Paine, points out that "la peninsula" is the area with the highest density, and therefore, where it is possible to see Pumas more frequently. In general, "the peninsula "is the area between Lakes Sarmiento, Nordenskjold and Pehoe," said the regional authority. 

Arcos also added the "Sendero Aonikenk" (Aonikenk Trail) to the list, as the Pumas' residence, making it clear that they can be seen throughout the reserve, except in inhospitable places.

"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 added some private areas to the list, with a large number of pumas, which would be earmarked for tourism with these animals"Estancia Laguna Amarga, Cerro Paine, and Cerro Guido are hotspot areas for sightings of cougars," said the veterinary, specialist in the native species.

Upcoming Regulations 

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

Although it has not yet been reviewed by the respective authority, the investigator anticipated to Emol some of the possible security lines that will be delivered to the entity, which could be integrated into the current security system of the reserve.

* Responsibility: People who visit the area where cougars live, must be informed that this is a potentially dangerous species. It carries an implicit risk that must be known by the visitor.
* Observation distance: A minimum distance of 50 meters is suggested. 
* Number of people per sighting: Tourist groups should not exceed seven or eight people, since the massiveness could affect the animal behaviour. 
* Maximum observation time: This should not exceed eight consecutive hours, divided between the groups that visit the areas for one day. 
* Equipment: Multicolour clothing should not be worn to avoid altering the landscape.