Looking for Jaguars, Pantanal, Brazil

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“Much of human behavior can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. They are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen.”  Suzy Kassem

Spotting a jaguar in its natural habitat is one of those surreal experiences. One of the best places to spot them is in the Pantanal, Brazil. It is easier to find them here because there are less places to hide than in the Amazon. (photo Emilio White)

Oncafari is a jaguar conservation project on the grounds of the Caiman Reserve in Brazil. We set off in our jaguar printed vehicle to spend the day with Oncafari. Victoria is our expert guide.

As in Africa, Oncafari has worked to habituate the jaguars to the sight and sound of the vehicles.Some of them have tracking collars and we can follow them deep into the bush. Victoria points out animal and bird sightings along the way.

This beautiful female jaguar with piercing green eyes is sitting in the bushes. It was not bothered by our presence and eventually strolls back in the brush.

The pattern of a jaguar’s spots is unique to every individual, allowing Victoria to identify this  particular jaguar.

 Later we learn more about the Oncafari project and how they use radio collars to monitor the jaguars. Camera traps are set up throughout the reserve to allow Onçafari to keep track of their jaguars without the jaguars ever knowing they’re being monitored. Jaguar sightings have increased at Caiman over the past seven years due to the success of Onçafari’s habituation program and the stability of the refuge’s jaguar population. 

In the afternoon, we are less successful. But we finally find a jaguar hidden in the bush and track him for a while.(photo Emilio White)

The next day we spot a jaguar sitting under a tree near the water. Four capybaras (very large rodents) are at the water’s edge not moving.

A herd of cows look back and forth from the capybaras to the jaguar as if they are watching a tennis game. The jaguar sprints to the water’s edge.The capybaras dive under the water where they can only stay for two minutes.

The capybaras run out of the water into the brush. The jaguar follows. There is a rustling but no noise. Three capybaras run out of the brush into the water. The jaguar paces at the water edge and makes some noises. Another jaguar appears. It is her daughter..(photo Emilio White)

Eight caiman rase their heads out of the water. Eventually the jaguars leave. The three remaining capybaras run away and the caimans go back under the water. When it is all over, the cows drink the water. A guide from Oncafari goes into the bushes and takes a picture of the dead capybara.

The jaguar had bitten his neck and he died instantly without noise. The jaguars may or may not come  back later and eat. 

The only sound is the jeep and the birds. It the kind of quiet that reminds me that I am a long way from home and it is not a good day  to be a capybara.

Fly safe,

JAZ

The Pantanal, Brazil

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The Pantanal

“I look at it this way … For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers … so when nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever.” George Carlin

In the heart of South America, the Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland territory covering around 210,000 square kilometers. Less than half of this is in Bolivia and Paraguay; the rest is in Brazil, split between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.

Part National Park, part UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pantanal boasts the highest concentration of wildlife on the continent. It is home to around 1,000 bird species.

Some of the very rare and endangered animal species that call the Pantanal home include the Marsh Deer, Giant River Otter, Hyacinth Macaw, Crowned Solitary Eagle, Maned Wolf, Bush Dog, Capybara, South American Tapir, Giant Anteater, Yacare Caiman, ocelots and jaguars. (capybaras)

 Most of the Pantanal is privately owned and less than three per cent is under government protection. Cooperation between ecotourism and the landowners in the region (mostly cattle ranchers) has contributed to the sustainable conservation of the environment. 

The  ecolodges and tourist industry pay the ranchers not to kill the jaguars.  The money  ecotourism brings in far exceeds the cash value of the loss of cattle. Jaguars have created a thousand new jobs in Brazil.

 Ecotourism couldn’t have been better for the jaguars. The guides describe them as opportunistic— they don’t just kill when they are hungry. Now they are the protected top of the food chain.

Two days before we arrive, we are told that the fires in the Pantanal affected our lodge and we would have to stay in a different one. There have been many more fires in the Pantanal this year than previous ones – due to both dryness and criminal activity. Firefighters say the cause is likely local people setting fires to clear land of vegetation, a practice also blamed for many of the Amazon fires. Such burning is particularly common among cattle ranchers, who use fire rather than costly equipment to prepare pastures. 

 The fires in the Pantanal this year have been overshadowed by the months-long period of blazes seen in the Amazon region. The governor of Mato Grosso do Sul declared a state of emergency on Sept. 11.

I didn’t know about the Pantanal fires because the News only talked about the Amazon. It clearly affected the  number of birds and animals we would see. But by the time I realized that, I was there.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ugly Americans

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Ugly Americans

“What’s the derogatory term for Americans in a foreign country? ….Americans” unknown 

As Americans traveling the world we do apologize often for our behavior. But we may have outdone ourselves with Trump. Trump represents the America that the world hates. He embodies the worst anti-American stereotypes: vulgar, violent, cash-obsessed, racist.

 I had heard about the  Ugly Americans abroad but this was my first experience with them. We were at a beautiful resort in the Pantanal in Brazil where meals were served at community tables. There they were- loud, arrogant, older Trump supporters and the BF took the bait.  Sometimes I think we’re all too much like this. We are rude to people we don’t know precisely because we don’t know them, and we think it doesn’t really matter.  We treat people with differing political views as evil rather than consider that they have had different experiences and ideas. 

My boyfriend apologized the next morning and they agreed to talk only about the jaguars that we were all hoping to see . There had  recently been a huge fire in the Pantanal  and it affected and killed many animals. The safaris were like treasure hunts and we had been lucky and had seen almost all the animals including jaguars, 

The next morning out on the jeep with them we saw nothing. The Ugly Americans complained loudly and compared the experience unfavorably to their many trips in Africa and boat trip to Port Jofre. A vacation always goes better if you don’t compare.They wallowed in a swamp of complaints.They measured their stay in the Pantanal with an American yardstick instead of immersing themselves in the culture they came to see.

Their anger escalated in the afternoon. Again, we saw very few animals and we pulled up to go canoeing on this beautiful lake in the Pantanal. They were furious. He yelled at the guide.  “I flew five thousand miles to go canoeing. I’m not going and I’m going to just sit here and complain.”

Righteous anger boiled up inside me. I felt compelled to tell him that his negative energy was impacting the group experience and this beautiful place. He replied in a loud angry voice that i should shut my mouth and go back to Brooklyn (where I grew up). His response was several notches more intense than necessary. “You are healthy and you are here,” I answered and walked away.

I got into the canoe and begged my boyfriend not to say anything. He. agreed but when we got back to shore, the man stood in his path. The next thing I knew was that they had their hands on each other about to fight. “I hate you Hollywood types. You think you are better than everyone,” he said.  It was right out of Trump’s playbook.

The wife would stand in front of the jeep so I couldn’t get on without asking her to move or go around to the other side.  If I tried to talk to my German friends sitting behind me, she would get involved and push me out of the conversation. No one liked them but everyone was trying to keep the peace and talk to them so that there would be no more incidents and we would see more animals. I haven’t seen bullies like this since  junior high school.

We bonded with the hardworking  staff and the other lovely guests from all over the world over our dislike of “the Ugly Americans.” i tried to avoid them as much as possible but staying in the same lodge it was difficult. They were still complaining in the doorway as we were leaving.

Just to be clear, every country has horrible people who are loud, rude, and arrogant, and these people are horrible when they travel and, presumably, horrible at home. It’s not limited to a single country.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ