The Patagonian Puma (Puma concolor puma) is a sub-species of Puma concolor. Know as the mountain lion or cougar in North America, the puma has the greatest range of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere.
Its wide distribution is testament its adaptability to virtually every habitat type: it is found in all forest types, as well as in lowland and mountainous deserts. The puma prefers regions with dense underbrush, but can live with little vegetation in open areas. It is a nocturnal and crepuscular hunter making daytime sightings rare.
Patagonia's puma population is protected by law in both Argentina and Chile but human activity in during the 20th century pushed their range to the remotest areas. Although Pumas can still be found throughout Patagonia, their wariness of humans and largely nocturnal hunting preference make chance encounters extremely unlikely.
If you want to see these elusive felines in the wilds of Patagonia you will need to plan to base yourself within proximity of an established population for a few days and hire a local specialist guide who knows the best observation points.
The best place for such a base is Torres del Paine National Park - apart from the puma spotting, the scenery and hiking in the park are phenominal. The puma population in the park is healthy and growing due to the plentiful food supply (guanacos, rheas, maras and small rodents) and improved conservation effort in recent years. The number of individuals in Torres del Paine is estimated at around 70 by the park's wardens. Tracking of pumas in the park is permitted, provided you respect the rules and don't encroach on the areas where they den.
There are a number of lodges in and around Torres del Paine that offer puma tracking programmes.
Awasi is located just outside the park boundaries in a private reserve. They have recently launched their own initiative, The Awasi Puma Foundation, which aims to restore the ecosystem by expanding the the area under their management to 11,000 acres, in effect, extending the area of protected habitat beyond the park's borders.
Awasi offers all-inclusive accommodation in luxury villas and a dedicated guide for a range of excursions including puma tracking. Prices start $3,600 per person for a 3 night programme, based on 2 people sharing a double villa.