Nestled in the southern reaches of Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park may be famous for its windswept granite peaks and impossibly turquoise lakes, but in recent years it’s also become known as one of the best places in the world to encounter pumas. Thanks to two decades of concerted conservation efforts, some 60 individuals now inhabit the park and surrounding private areas, sustained by an ample population of guanacos. In August 2019, photojournalist Lucas Bustamante spent a week amid the ice and snow of this iconic landscape, getting to know a hard-working female and her four six-month-old cubs.
Like most cats, female pumas raise their young alone after mating in the spring. Litters usually number two (though can comprise up to six), so this was a healthy brood. The female was a very attentive parent, regularly grooming her youngsters and ever-watchful for danger. It pays for mother pumas to invest in their cubs – females typically average just one litter every two to three years.
A guanaco’s curiosity almost gets the better of it, as it wanders nerve-janglingly close to the family hideout. When out hunting, the female often stashed her cubs in rocky nooks across her territory, to ensure shelter not only from the bitter Patagonian wind, but also from large males, who would kill the youngsters in a heartbeat to bring the female back into season.
Bursting with energy, the cubs played virtually non-stop, constantly pestering their mother when she was trying to rest after a night’s hunting. “It was funny watching the female try to ‘escape’ her young so that she could get some sleep,” says Lucas. “Wherever she went, they would find her and try to rouse her to play. She had enormous tolerance for their antics.”
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