Ranchers and Puma

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The closest town to the park is Cerro Castillo (http://www.torresdelpayne.cl), which is about 50 km outside the central park entrance. Approximately 100 years old, it is the center of operations for three sheep ranches. The perimeter of the three-block town is surrounded by pens used, I guess, for processing the sheep. Not much more than a crossroads, there are two small coffee shops that also sell souvenirs.

Stopping by for lunch on my way back from errands in Puerto Natales, I discovered that a dozen or so local workers eat at the coffee shop daily. Rather than order typical tourist fare off the menu, I was invited to join the men eating the “house menu.” I had to stop after the soup course – a hearty soup with whole corn, chicken and potatoes – but decided this would be a welcome treat for the boys and arranged to return for dinner.

Dinner, like lunch, was a three-course meal served to the local workers. This time, a seafood soup was followed by a huge serving of (appropriately) shepherd’s pie. We didn’t have room for dessert. For $28, we were well fed with a hearty meal. But the best part of the evening was when we were introduced to one of the ranchers. An owner of 80,000 hectares, he was introduced to us because he knows a lot about puma. Basically, he doesn’t like them much. He claimed that one puma could be responsible for as many as 40 baby sheep in one night. Ranchers in the area have hunted for the puma in the past with dogs. This rancher says that the puma “hide in the park” during the day, but continue to hunt on the ranches at night.

The next day, we reported the conversation to the park rangers. We were assured that a puma might kill as many as 40 sheep in a year, but certainly not in a one night!