Guys I Saw a Puma

Guys, I saw a puma.

Pics. It happened.

A real life freaking puma. A mountain lion in the jungle. A cougar. A catamount. Puma concolor, color and all. I saw it. Me.

Ok, let me rein it in and start from the beginning: this was down in the Osa Peninsula, back at one of my old haunts. On a stretch of public trail that follows the coastline from Drake Bay to Corcovado. I was killing time, strolling along, trying to get eyes on some howler monkeys nearby. When I happened to look down and to my right.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. Until I nearly walked into it.

Kitty cat! Right there! Right freaking there! Just lying out with its ears three, maybe four meters away. Didn’t make a sound. Hardly moved. Just stared at me while I stared back. All brown and slinky and furry and–

Alright this happened months ago so I thought I’d calmed down enough to write about it legibly. Apparently not. Anyway, there had been puma tracks and photos from the camera traps nearby, but no one had seen one so clearly during broad daylight. Large cats are notoriously illusive and skittish, and people are lucky to get a glimpse as they disappear back into the brush. But this was lying right by a public trail, not even a hundred meters from the station. I wasn’t sneaking or anything. I didn’t even have a good camera ready.

But I saw it! And photographed it! Oh, the sweet vindication! After all those months in Monteverde, prowling around with camera at the ready. All those hours staking out watering holes and game trails, smearing myself with mud. And listening with utter frustration when some tourists saw one in the middle of the day from their car. I earned this, dammit! Earned this!

I still can’t believe it. I was in shock. Not out of fear for my life–since puma attacks in Costa Rica are rare–but that it would bolt and leave me with no proof. After all, who would believe me? So I tried to keep calm, and coolly reached for my phone. Snapped a few photos, and a few closeups with a crappy zoom lens.

Yeah, give ’em your good side, you goddamn gorgeous beast.

And OK, my mind did melt a little. I said something inane, as if had just stepped on a stranger’s foot: “Whoa, sorry, my bad,” only it came out, “Whoop. Shmeerie. Marbles.” But purely out of excitement. Then I remembered that I was, after all, facing down a predator and I backed away, never turning round, and took a little video as it disappeared from view.

I got back to the station with my heart hammering and silently handed my phone to the first person I saw, a member of the staff. He looked at the photo and at my face, which must have been ash-white even under a sunburn. He asked when this was taken. “Just now,” I said. His jaw dropped.

Pumas in Central America are slightly smaller and redder than those in the North, I’ve noticed. They also have slightly different habits, probably due to the fact that they eat smaller prey. This one, I think, was a juvenile that was staking out a game trail frequented by curassow, peccary, and agouti. It probably didn’t mean to get so close to humans, but clearly wasn’t too concerned. After all, it didn’t growl or flee right away. In fact, it broke eye contact and looked away while I was still there. Quite the casual move for a predator.

So yeah, I saw a puma. Cross that one off the life list. I saw a puma and didn’t even try. Just out here in my bad jungle self, trompin around and shootin cats like it ain’t no thing.

I saw a puma.

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