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

Things That I Want To Do In Brazil This Time

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Things That I Want To Do In  Brazil This Time

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”    Kurt Vonnegut

Eat At Mocoto In Sao Paulo again.

Wander around Pelourinho.  It is the old city in Salvador. Bahia, with colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. Salvador is filled with music, dance, capoeira schools, restaurants and bars.

Experience a Candobie ceremony in Salvador. Candobie is a religion that melds together the traditions, customs and deities of African religions, Catholicism and even some indigenous beliefs. An opportunity to experience a candomblé service or ceremony is a fantastic way to see the Afro-Brazilian culture come alive, and the ceremonies often involve music and dancing and are held throughout the year.

See the art in Bahia – street, galleries, museums. 

Spend the day on a boat going to different beaches near Salvador.

 Stay at a lodge in the Pantanal. The best place in South America to see wildlife is not the Amazon but the Pantanal, a Florida-size wetland on the far western edge of Brazil that bursts with animals — capybaras, caimans, jaguars, anacondas, giant otters, colorful hyacinth macaws, kites, hawks, and flocks of storks and herons .

Do a jaguar tracking tour in the Pantanal. Ii is not a guarantee as it is late in the season but there might be  smaller cats such as the ocelot, as well as other animals such as foxes, howler monkeys, and caiman. Tapirs, giant anteaters, capybara, and peccaries, all rare in most of their remaining habitats, are seen here.

Take a boat down the river and see all the birds and fish.

Go Piranha fishing and eating.

Fly safe,

JAZ.