In March 2016, one of our guests, from the United States, wrote enthusiastically about his time at Tambopata Ecolodge, and how his 10 year old son had enjoyed “the time of his life” and “actually saw a puma”.
It is often forgotten by visitors to the lowland forests of the Peruvian Amazon that as well as hoping to see the elusive jaguar, they should also be on the lookout for pumas.
The geographic range of the puma (Puma concolor) is the greatest of any terrestrial mammal in the western hemisphere (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002). The territory of the puma stretches from Canada, through the United States and Central and South America, all the way down to southern Chile and Argentinean Patagonia. It is, perhaps, the single most adaptable member of the world’s big cat family, capable of thriving in every major habitat found in the Americas, from the high open grasslands above 5000 meters (16,400 feet) in the Andes of southern Peru, to the dense lowland forests of the Amazon basin.
But while the puma is almost infinitely adaptable, it has not been immune to the dangers posed to nature by the human population of the Americas. Within just two hundred years of European colonization, the puma was eliminated from the entire eastern half of North America (Nowell and Jackson, 1996). Only in Florida does a very small and heavily endangered population continue to exist to this day, while in the Midwestern United States there have been reports since the mid-1990s of attempted re-colonization by pumas.
While there may be as many as 5000 pumas in Canada and perhaps 10,000 in the United States, the population in Central and South America is probably much higher. Little is known about puma numbers in the Amazon basin, but what seems certain is that habitats like that offered by the protected status of Tambopata National Reserve represent the perfect refuge for this most wide-ranging –and therefore arguably most iconic- of the mammalian species endemic to the Americas.