For a few years we had been keen to try and see one of the more elusive large cats on the planet, jaguars.
This desire motivated us to include a trip to a more remote area in Brazil called the Pantanal; it is the world’s largest tropical wetland, covering over 181,300 square kms— right in the centre of South America.
Brazil can lay claim to most of the region, but the Pantanal spills into neighbouring Paraguay and Bolivia and though the Amazon rain forest to its north is more well known, the Pantanal quietly boasts the highest concentration of wildlife on the continent.
|Blue section on map is The Panatanal|
After the wet season (Dec to early April), the Pantanal becomes a massive wetland filled with lots of wildlife and as the waters drain the bird numbers reduce through migration and the numbers of marsupials and mammals increase, including jaguars. The Pantanal is also home to the green anaconda… the largest snake in the world.
Our original itinerary was planned in conjunction with a local company Wild Pantanal Safaris had us travelling deeper into the Pantanal along the mainly dirt Transpantaneira Highway.
We were meant to stay at a more rustic lodge at the end of the highway for 4 days/3 nights, specifically to search for jaguars.
|Start of the Transpantaneira Highway into the Pantanal|
Jaguars are the dominant predator weighing up to 136 kg in weight and whose prey includes caiman, which are similar to but smaller than crocodiles, captured by leaping off the bank into the water, crushing their throat or skulls and dragging them back out onto land.
Unfortunately for us, late and unseasonal heavy rains flooded the rougher and final sections of the road and areas around the lodge and leading to the jaguars moving north and away from this area.
This meant a rapid change of itinerary only a week out from our arrival. We were naturally disappointed, but the Pantanal had plenty of other wildlife to search for.
We had to reach a city called Cuiabá and after travelling from Rio via Sao Paulo where whilst waiting for the flight to Cuiabá, Rob decided to use the airport toilet, only for its door to fall off its hinges. She caught and handed it to the attendant as she left, much to that lady’s bemusement.
|Flights from Rio to Cuiabá|
The new itinerary had us staying in one lodge for 2 nights and another, deeper into the Pantanal for 1 and over the next 4 days it was non stop wildlife searching, including during our drive along the ‘highway’ to and from lodges.
There was an upside to the late rains… birds, lots and lots of birds and it wasn’t long before we were seeing some familiar ones like the kingfishers but also a mass of new ones.
|Kingfisher flying across a river|
|Spoonbills at sunrise|
|Snail kite eating a crab|
|First caiman we saw|
So for our entire time in the Pantanal we were either doing pre-sunrise walks into the forest, day and night drives or boat drives and there was plenty to see as the photos that follow will show.
At both lodges there was also plenty of evidence of the presence of our elusive quarry in the form of very fresh tracks of jaguars, at the first lodge a mother and cubs and at the second lodge a large male.
Flavio constantly amazed us by both his shared stories and his ability to spot animals either during the day or night, for example during our pre-dawn walk in the jungle and just after the sunrise, he found a porcupine sleeping at the top of a tree!
The staff in both lodges were very warm, friendly and despite our lack of Portuguese, made us feel very welcomed indeed. The food was plentiful and good, especially the piranha soup.
|Fresh jaguar paw prints but alas no sighting of one|
|Tree climbing porcupine... who would have thought|
We really enjoyed our multiple boat rides where we experienced a few new things like…
|Black & gold howler monkey|
|Patiently waiting to enter the 'capybara cafe'|
|Caiman in the wetlands at sunset|
During one boat ride we even went fishing for piranha and yes I did take one off the hook, much to Flavio’s concern, especially when you see their teeth.
A jumping caiman called Lucy who swam up so close to our boat Rob was warned to keep her hands away from the side. The fish she jumped for was piranha!
|Me hanging onto a piranha|
|The business end of a piranha|
|Lucy the caiman jumping for a piranha|
|Hawk making off with its piranha|
|Pygmy owl at night|
|Crab eating fox|
|2 young crab eating foxes pestering a caiman on the main highway|
|Giant anteater appears out of the bushes one night|
|Map of our route within the Pantanal|
|Sunset over the Pantanal's wetlands whilst in boat|