Incredible footage showing guard dogs stopping a puma from hunting sheep in the pitch black Patagonian mountains has been captured using heat sensitive cameras and drones. It is the first time this behavior has ever been filmed.
The clip was filmed as part of "Animals Up Close With Bertie Gregory," a new National Geographic series that takes viewers to remote locations around the world looking at creatures up close in their daily lives. In the episode "Patagonia Puma," Gregory — a National Geographic Explorer — and his team visit a remote, mountainous region of Patagonia in southern Chile. Their aim was to capture the lives of pumas (Puma concolor) and the challenges they face — including their coexistence with farmers, who have historically killed pumas that hunt their livestock.
In the footage, filmed on a sheep farm in the middle of the night, Gregory and cameraman Sam Stewart use thermal imaging cameras and a drone to see into the darkness. At the top of a ridge, they spot a puma creeping down the mountainside directly at the sheep. "They have absolutely no idea that it's there," Stewart said while filming the scene.
The puma hops the farm's fence with ease and is in with the sheep, ready for the kill, but the dogs sense something and start barking. The puma steps away and jumps back over the fence before retreating up the hill.
Hunting pumas has been illegal in Chile since the early 1980s, but it is still sometimes practiced in private land. Conservation projects now work with farmers to use non-lethal means of protecting sheep, including fences, tracking collars and specialized guard dogs, such as Maremma and Great Pyrenees Sheepdogs — powerful breeds with long, thick coats suitable for living in the freezing Patagonian landscape.
The Nat Geo footage shows the dogs in action.
"If the farmer's solution is to shoot the pumas, that's not actually a good solution," Gregory told Live Science. "If you shoot one of those pumas their territory very quickly gets occupied by another puma from a neighboring piece of territory, so the problem continues. Not only are you killing pumas… you're also not solving the problem."
Gregory said he met a different farmer who used to shoot pumas but realized it wasn't helping protect his flock. "He 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." The farmer now breeds a special type of sheep dog that protects sheep from predators, and gives them to other farms. Gregory's footage is the first time this dog deterrent has been filmed working.
"I couldn't find anywhere where anyone had actually seen or filmed the interaction between the dogs and the pumas” said Gregory. "We filmed that interaction between the pumas [and] the dogs for the first time."
"Animals Up Close With Bertie Gregory" is available to stream on Disney+ from Sept. 13.
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Hannah Osborne is the planet Earth and animals editor at Live Science. Prior to Live Science, she worked for several years at Newsweek as the science editor. Before this she was science editor at International Business Times U.K. Hannah holds a master's in journalism from Goldsmith's, University of London.