A prowling puma’s late-night efforts to hunt sheep in Patagonia were foiled by the barking alarm call of guard dogs in dramatic footage captured for a new National Geographic series. In Animals Up Close, wildlife photographer, filmmaker, and presenter Bertie Gregory is on scene with a team using thermal imaging cameras to track the invading puma, and in doing so captured a behavior that’s never been recorded before.
Puma’s need to eat, but a story like this is a heartening one because the conflict between these proficient hunters and farmers – whose livestock they love to eat – has become a big problem for the survival of the species. In the past, farmers have hunted pumas in an effort to keep their flock safe. Unfortunately, more often, any pumas killed are simply replaced by another puma moving into the now-vacant territory.
Guard dogs became a convenient and conservation-friendly alternative for some farmers in Patagonia who saw great results without having to kill the native predatory pumas.
“[A farmer] told me about this one farm where they used to kill 100 pumas per year… after the dogs were introduced to protect the flock from the pumas, the farmer lost just two sheep,” Gregory told Live Science. “I couldn't find anywhere where anyone had actually seen or filmed the interaction between the dogs and the pumas. We filmed that interaction between the pumas [and] the dogs for the first time.”
Pumas are the largest predator in Patagonia, using stealth and strength to sneak up on their prey before ambushing them. Their strong jaws and sizable teeth mean they can clamp down on their kill, which they will hide and feed on for several days.
A fine hunter, but not one that’s immune to the pressure of being hunted. For a puma, captive livestock conveniently packaged in fenced-off pens make for an easy meal, and the death of sheep and cattle at the jaws of pumas has affected their popularity among farmers.
Puma hunting became a huge problem that pushed their numbers to near extinction, triggering an initiative in 1980 from the Chilean government to make hunting them illegal. While it continues in some places, efforts have been made to introduce alternative means of keeping livestock safe from pumas, including the introduction of sheepdogs whose loud barking is off-putting for the inconspicuous hunting puma.
This first-of-its-kind footage is made extra dramatic by the use of thermal imaging used to show the hunt attempt in all its glory despite being filmed in the middle of the night. You can watch it and more of Gregory’s adventures in Animals Up Close on Disney+ from September 13.