The puma – or, depending on your nomenclatural preferences, the mountain lion, the cougar, the catamount, or the panther – is, by virtue of its anatomical inability to roar, not “officially” classed as a big cat. Yet this felid, which boasts the most extensive range of any large carnivore in the Western Hemisphere, actually outweighs on average all other cats but the jaguar, the lion, and the tiger, and its lithe, springy build makes it a formidable big-game hunter across its legitimately enormous geography.
Its rough-and-tumble predatory technique – and the significant size discrepancy that defines many a mountain-lion predation event – are dramatically on display in footage captured back in May down in the sprawling wildlands of Chilean Patagonia, on the doorstep of the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park:
Carlos Anabalón, a private guide who runs the outfit Pumagonia, nabbed the footage about midday on May 28th – the cusp of autumn in South America – during a solo outing. It shows a puma – a female known to Anabalón, one he’s nicknamed “Chocolate” – stalk close and then rush a guanaco, the heftiest wild camelid of South America and one of the largest mammals preyed upon by cougars in that continent.
The attack is intense, with the puma springing upon the guanaco and then getting bucked off in rather violent fashion. The long-necked grazer gallops away once it’s flung loose its spitfire burden; after a bit of a dazed-looking interlude, the puma lopes off in the general direction of the guanaco, though at a higher elevation.
“In my opinion,” Anabalón told us, “her idea was to try to ambush the guanaco.”
Shortly thereafter, however, Anabalón heard the “peeps” of puma kittens, and spotted Chocolate’s two cubs: the chocolatitos, as he (naturally) calls them. Before too long, they rejoined their mother, who apparently was unsuccessful in landing a camelid feast this day.
Successful or not, the footage shows the all-around moxie and athleticism of a puma: a cat that, though maxing out at some 68 to 100 kilograms (150 to 220 pounds), readily takes on large ungulates as quarry – not just guanacos, about as big as South American puma prey come, but also, in North America, bull wapiti, which may tip the scales at 318 kilograms (700 pounds) or more, and even, on occasion, full-size moose that can be bigger yet. (Mule deer, though, are staple fare in much of the puma’s northern domain.)
Across much of the puma’s vast global range, it hunts in forest or woodland, but on the Patagonian steppes the cat stalks wind-scoured grassland. This open country not only demands the utmost stealth on the cat’s part, but also may promote an especially high predation rate, given puma kills here are so readily picked clean by the huge vultures known as Andean condors.