In this blog, join Senior Director of Strategic Communications and Public Engagement Angela Ambrosini on her journey to the “end of the world” in Patagonia to see pumas. In this chilly paradise, read about her up close and personal encounter with a puma, and learn more about our innovative project in Chile and what coexistence with nature really looks like.
The iconic and surreal landscapes at the end of the world are unforgettable. You are blanketed by unfiltered, rainbow skies and mountainous glacier views where the wild engulfs you. It is a place where you can live peacefully, and at times, arms-length from the shadow of a puma.
Traveling to Patagonia can be exhausting, and after days of intense excitement and lack of sleep, you forget where in the world you started travelling from. We began our adventure exploring Estancia Laguna Amarga, long-time collaborators on our work in the region. As you look beyond the thick “mata negra” or black forest to spot a camouflaged puma hiding from the world, clarity breaks. I’ve glimpsed the small, faded yellow flicker of "Maya", one of the many pumas we will encounter together.
Maya was the first adult puma I had ever seen and she was absolutely breathtaking. She noticed my presence and heard the shuttering sound of my camera, but she was much too occupied to keep her focus on me. She was feeding on a fresh carcass, and after some time, she was joined by two more pumas — Dania and Daneska —named after twin sisters who manage Leona Amarga (the business arm for tourism on the ranch) and long-time Panthera collaborators.
The next morning, waking up before sunrise when Pumas are most active, we bundled up to protect ourselves from the cold and broke into two groups — each with binoculars to try to spot a puma. Holding on to my small, warm coffee canister, the weather was constantly in flux from cold to wet and everything in between. Remaining quiet and observant at all times, you never know when you will spot even the tiniest of movements deep in the darkened landscapes.
Once the day began to warm up, we spotted "Petaca" who was near another fresh carcass. Although she waited patiently to indulge in her dinner, she was too distracted searching and calling for her two kittens. In the cold darkness, I could still hear Petaca’s long, piercing calls to her cubs. Waiting in anticipation, I worried about where her cubs may be and hoped that the next day, I could bear witness to their reunion.
Panthera’s work in southern Chile is unique and exciting. The collaboration focuses on the cultivation and protection of the rich and beautiful traditions of the Chilean people, and the iconic wildlife of the region. You are surrounded by traditional and hard-working gauchos and their dogs, their caffeinated yerba mate, abundant wildlife and their unbreakable bonds with one another.
Family, friends and food embrace you during your soul search for pumas.
Working with our partners, the Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación, we are exploring various methods to enhance the peaceful coexistence between pumas and sheep. The mission is urgent as puma predation on sheep is not only a very real cost for local people, but it dominates how these big cats are perceived in local communities. However, this is changing as Chileans embrace the puma as an essential species to Patagonian ecosystems and express their pride in their distinctive approach to puma tourism. One aspect of our project uses Maremma and Pirineos sheepdogs and Foxlights in an experimental design to test best practices to safeguard sheep and scare off pumas. The dogs never harm or attack the pumas, they only scare them away. The loyal dogs are raised among a herd of sheep and form a protective bond with them.
Many people ask if it’s scary to see a cat in the wild. It’s something I had never thought of because of my intense curiosity about all things. As I sat in a tight group with my Panthera coworkers, Dr. Mark Elbroch, Dr. Omar Ohrens and Nicolás Lagos, and our experienced local guides, Rodrigo Moraga and Mauricio Montt, I grew closer to answering this question. While 50 meters away from the nursing mother Petaca, she and her cubs noticed us sitting together. Respecting their space, we minded our time and changed the batteries in our cameras until Petaca got up and strolled past us. Her two cubs bounced around as cubs do while following their mother. I could hear my heartbeat echo against the vast glaciers that surrounded us as I witnessed humans and wildlife respecting and coexisting together. The memory of Petaca’s reunion with her cubs, as she walked by us, will be one that I will never be able to fully explain or forget.
Patagonia taught me discipline, courage and patience. Picking at the thorns still stuck in my fingers from the Calafate bush (a spiky bush-like plant), the heights, strong winds and beauty cured me of all the worry and weight that I carried from the thorns of technology. If you open your mind, you will know that you can bear witness to conscious human and wildlife co-existence not just at the end of the world, but everywhere.
Read more about this collaborative project in The Guardian.