Blinca, the Puma of Torres del Paine
Text and Photos: Kaisa Sirén
It is not even 6 am and I am sitting in a car just outside Torres del Paine National Park. The nature around us is pitch black. It is far away from home from the Southern corner of Chile and South America, but I am not homesick yet, the adventure is beginning. We are sitting with my guide Mauricio Montt very quiet and waiting for an important phone call.
As the sun rises it makes the surrounding Andes mountain scenery bath in an incredible pink color. One sleepy guanaco strolls to the road and stops to pose in the beautiful morning light. But he should be very alert, since this is puma country. After one hour of waiting we receive the important call, the trackers have found a female puma feeding on a kill. The car speeds on as we climb up the shrub covered steep hillside. After about 15 minute drive we reach the top and see the breath taking scenery. But there is better to come, after a five minute walk we reach the trackers and the owner of the land admiring the now resting puma.
This is Blinca, master of camouflage. She is lying in the dense shrubs, and no matter how much the others try to point her out to me, I see nothing. We get a little closer but my eye cannot find the large puma. There is great excitement in the air and I hesitate to approach a predator I know to be there but can’t see. Finally she moves her head and looks straight at my camera. My heart stops right there, the distance is 30 meters. Nothing I could ever have imagined. Green eyes, tidy eyeliner, studying look which drills itself right down to your soul. At the same time very wise, elegant and gentle.
There are about 50 pumas living in Torres del Paine National park and its surroundings. The area offers a lot of food, good shelter and camouflage and protection against hunters. In Chile alone about 100 individuals are shot by farmers per year since they hunt for the sheep. Earlier puma had been widely spread all over North and South Americas, but due to human actions, its living environments have largely been destroyed. At the moment probably the most concentrated puma population is in the area of Torres del Paine. And if anywhere, here is a chance to see a puma in the wild.
And Blinca is one of them. She is young and very well shaped female. We notice her great condition as she decides to stop napping and return to her guanaco meal. The carcass is covered with grass and shrubs, she pulls it visible from the hide and continues eating. Blinca is a large female, approximately 80 kg, and she can feed about three days on this one animal. Puma’s hunting is not always successful. The right eye of Blinca is a living proof. It is injured most likely as this large and strong camelid kicked her. It looks like the eye is blind but it does not seem to bother her life. Nor do we photographers disturb her mealtime. Blinca is one of the few pumas in Torres del Paine who lets humans in a close distance and even is curious about our moves. Blinca is eating, tearing the head of the guanaco, holding it with front paws and finally opening her enormous jaws. I can see the head of the animals vanishing in her mouth as well as hear the crack of the bones. I can admire the red colored lips and claws as she time to time looks around her.
The mealtime ends as soon as it has started. The carcass is hid in the bush again and Blinca takes direction up the hills. She is moving slowly but determinately up along the grass covered hill. We start walking slowly after her. Luckily slowly, since walking in the rocky land is challenging. And I do not wish to look at my feet but only this stunning animal in this stunning scenery. After some time the puma stops and stares carefully into the distance, then turns to walk straight at us. We are five people and we move away from her in a tight row. But she turns along with us and keeps coming straight at us. I would like to run away but it is an absolute no no. You will always be second to the puma, she can sprint even 50-60 km/hour. You just have to keep calm and try to look as big a mass of people as possible. Blinca passes us nobly in about 20 meters, she knows who is the ruler of the Andes. I will never forget this encounter!