Author: Lois O. Gray Photos: Kay Gilmour
Travel Arrangements: Zegrahm Expeditions
Searching for Jaguars in Brazil
October 2 to October 20, 2015
I ntroduction : Jaguars rolling and grooming like kittens! Giant otters growling and shrieking like no river or ocean otter you ever heard. Common and great potoos, birds that look
positively prehistoric. Flamboyant parrots gliding through the skies like aerial acrobats.
Predatory birds of all sizes from huge roadside hawks to tiny kingfishers plunging into the
ochre, silt-filled waters of the fast-moving rivers with deadly accuracy. The world's largest
rodent, capybaras, weighing up to 150 lbs swimming easily past our boats. What
exuberant nature all around us in the marvelous Pantanal of Brazil!
Because we had long wanted to visit "jaguar country" to see these magnificent big cats in
their own homelands, we booked a trip with our favorite travel company, Zegrahm
Expeditions, to join with other enthusiasts to explore the Pantanal, reputed to be the area
of the Americas with the highest density of jaguars. This trip delivered on every level
from lodgings to exploration experiences, food and food safety (no one got sick on this
trip), and guides. So let me now prove to you why we had so much fun, satisfaction and
great photo ops during this absolutely fabulous trip.
An explanation of the title of this journal is necessary at the beginning. The end of the
dry season in the Pantanal occurs during the spring (remember Brazil is below the
Equator). We knew to expect really hot temperatures—even into the 100s—and that did
occur a few times. Usually however the temperatures were in the 80s and 90s. But the
humidity is very high because the rainy season is hard upon. So we certainly did do a
lot of "panting" in the heat, as did many of the animals, even the birds. We did
experience one very rare occurrence where the weather turned really cool, but more
about that later. Our usual weather kept us sweating, panting on exertion & very HOT.
T ABLE OF C ONTENTS
Where And What Is The Pantanal? ................................................................................................ 4
Transpantaneira Highway.............................................................................................................. 7
First Stop: Araras Eco Lodge ..........................................................................................................13
Hike To Monkey Tower ..............................................................................................................14
Evening Safari Rides..................................................................................................................17
Get A Horse!................................................................................................................................18
Second Stop: Pantanal Mato Grosso Hotel ...................................................................................26
Third Stop: Porto Jofre..................................................................................................................39
Finally! Jaguars!! ..........................................................................................................................47
Fourth Stop: Bonito And A Sinkhole ..............................................................................................65
Buraco Das Araras......................................................................................................................65
Snorkeling The Rio De Prata..........................................................................................................68
Fifth Stop: Caiman Ecological Reserve & Lodge ........................................................................72
The Jaguar Kill ............................................................................................................................91
W HERE AND W HAT IS THE P ANTANAL ?
The Pantanal is mainly in the country of Brazil in the states of Mato Grosso and Mato
Grosso do Sul, but small parts of it are within the borders of Bolivia and Paraquay.
The Brazilian part is over 75,000 square miles in area. It is considered the world's
largest tropical wetland, more than 20 times larger than Florida's Everglades NP.
This pristine wilderness with no towns in its borders shelters over 1000 species of birds
(we saw 230), 400 different kinds of fish, 300 mammal species (we saw 26 species),
480 types of reptiles (we saw 5) and over 9000 different subspecies of invertebrates. It
was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2000 adding further protection to this
sensitive area. Most of the land is owned in very large tracts by ranchers and farmers.
Many of these family-owned estates (fazendas and estancias) offer eco-lodge
accommodations and activities. Their interest in conservation for economic reasons has
also led to the preservation of many more areas.
The Brazilian government furthers this aim by offering tax breaks to large (& smaller)
landowners who will declare sections of their lands to be "refuges." These lands will be
so designated in perpetuity, even should the original owners decide to sell their
property. So that answers the where question. Now to the what.
Imagine a depression in the earth that is millions of years old predating the uplifting of
the Andes Mountains. Picture if you can this huge basin of 75,000 square miles, 80%
covered in water for six months of the year (the rainy season) and almost desiccated at
the last of the dry six months. Many rivers flowing down the gentle slope of the bowl
from surrounding higher lands create an internal delta in this great basin which receives
up to 55 inches of rain as well during the wet months. The rainy season usually runs
from November to April and the dry season from May through October.
The plants and animals must live through both those seasons so they have evolved to
adapt to both wet and dry conditions. We visited the Pantanal in October, considered to
be the best time to view as much wildlife as possible since all kinds of creatures must
seek out the dwindling ponds and pools for water. The rivers flow continuously
throughout the year but not all creatures are adapted to utilize the rapidly running river
water. These creatures seek out the pools and lakes in the Pantanal. Many other
animals do congregate along the river banks in the dry season, making them easy to
spot from ecotourist boats.
We were lucky enough to view many mammal species as well as a huge number of
birds from these boats. In fact, most companies advertise that the easiest and safest
way to see the magnificent jaguars is from a boat and that certainly worked for us. The
other way to explore the Pantanal during dry season is on the dirt roads that the big
landowners have created to get wheeled vehicles in and out of their lands. Each
ecolodge has its own style of safari truck which accommodates between 12 and 15
people comfortably. There are different configurations used in each place: some are
like African safari trucks where the seats are raised from front to back and all face
forward. Another style used the truck sides & back to arrange the seating. There were
advantages and disadvantages to both styles. More about that as we get into the actual
"safaris" we enjoyed.
Our journey worked its way down from Cuiaba, a large city on the northern edge of the Pantanal. We stayed a couple of nights in a nice hotel (the Gran Odara) but really didn't do
much sightseeing in the city. However, it gave us our chance to have a first meeting with
the 11 other people who had signed up with us as well as our tour guides, Mark Brazil
(Zegrahm representative & bird expert) and Frederico (Fred to us) Tavares (our local
Brazilian guide and trip coordinator and another birding pro and expert on the
Pantanal and all its creatures). Quickly we realized that this would be a very compatible
and comfortably small group. Everyone wanted what we had come for: the chance to
see and photograph as many of the amazing species of wildlife as possible in this
charmed environment. That initial impression held true throughout our 18 days together!
T RANSPANTANEIRA H IGHWAY
The way into the Pantanal from
the cities and towns on the
periphery is via the
Transpantaneira Highway - a raised
dirt road punctuated by numerous
perilous-looking wooden bridges
over rivers, sloughs, and ravines.
The highway leaves the city of Cuiaba and is paved for about the first 40 miles. When
we reached the actual "highway," we saw the wooden welcoming archway
our true entrance into the Pantanal. The smooth surface abruptly ends there and the
bumps and thumps begin over the dirt road for another 80 miles to its end at Porto
Jofre. So now let's make the trip from top to bottom, or from north to south. Luckily for
our backs and bottoms, we did not have to travel the whole highway in one day, until the
last day when we had to drive back to Cuiaba to catch a flight to our last stop, Campo
Grande (but more about that later).
We stopped many times along the way for photo ops and "nature stops." Among the
birds we saw were: herons, cranes, and various raptors. And then there were the
Caimans and the capybaras - the world's largest rodent.
The Yacare Caiman.
The safari vehicles were old but not particularly uncomfortable—they were the African
type with gradually raised rows of seats, with ladders to climb to enter the viewing area.
We did learn about the accent on "old" further into our explorations there.
F IRST S TOP : A RARAS E CO L ODGE
The Araras Eco Lodge was our home and base camp for two days of very successful
exploring of this part of the northern Pantanal. However, I must backtrack a moment to
tell you that the very uneven and lumpy highway drive was not without its rewards. We
saw many different birds and even the most famous reptilian denizen of the Pantanal: the
One of the highlights of the environs of the lodge were our first looks at the beautiful and
critically endangered Hyacinth macaws. The lodge owner is involved with rehabilitating and
returning to nature injured macaws as well as providing nesting places for wild and
healthy birds These parrots are the largest in the parrot family. Only pictures can
reveals the beauty of these wonderful chatty birds.
The Araras Lodge was comfortable and the food was delicious.
HIKE TO MONKEY TOWER
On our first full day at Araras, however, we started out at 6:30 a.m. on a stroll on the
impressive raised wooden boardwalk out to the Torre do Bugio (the Monkey Tower)
where we would see panoramic views of the surrounding lands. On the walk to and from
the tower we saw capuchin monkeys, woodstorks, and many other birds.
It was extremely hot already and by 9:30, we decided that we needed to shower and
change clothes. I suppose we were still tired because we napped until lunch at noon
and were very ashamed of ourselves. After an inviting alfresco buffet lunch, we were
ready for the next activity: our first vehicle safari.
EVENING SAFARI RIDES
There were several highlights during our afternoon & evening safari rides. We saw crab- eating foxes and crab-eating raccoons but, oddly enough, neither species eats crabs. This was the
only place where we saw the raccoons, but the foxes proved to be very numerous and
easy to spot everywhere we went. Also easily seen were the fat pig-like Barzilian tapirs.
Our night rides here were accompanied by the rhythmic clicks of the castanet frogs all
around us. A distinct and happy jungle sound. Other phenomena that made night rides
more interesting were the numerous fireflies winking on and off around us and the
wonderful insects we couldn't identify except that they appeared to be pieces of silver
razor wire suspended in the spotlight glare.
GET A HORSE!
The most memorable highlight turned out to be related to the "old" safari vehicle. As we
drove through a very dry area with spindly vegetation and open scraggy grasslands, we
came upon a surprisingly muddypatch on the clay road. The driver either did not
recognize the problem or thought the truck was mighty enough to pass right over the
danger. WRONG! We became well and truly stuck and no amount of jockeying back
and forth could free us. It became clear that it was going to take a lot of work to get us
out of the muck and mire. Everybody off the truck and the driver and a helper as well as
many of our party began to work on digging the truck out. That was when we learned
that the tires were totally bald—no tread to be seen and the trucks have no way to
contact the lodge so we were really alone in the wilderness.
The knowledgeable staff and the willing workers began to gather branches to provide
traction while the driver and his helper dug deeper into the mud to place the branches.
Some of the group were a cheering squad, others went off to hike around the barren
waste looking for something "wild" and others actually participated in the preparations.
When all was in readiness, the driver got back into the cab and all the willing workers
began to push the truck. Several fruitless tries later, it was time to give up and start
More branches, more bushes and more digging. By this time the hikers had returned to
the site and found that no real progress had been made so some of them pitched in with
the second pushing effort! Success! We all thought we were out of there. But no! The
truck rammed its way out of the mud only to slipslide away into still another muddy
patch and was trapped yet again! More digging and more collecting and then more
pushing and finally the truck got back onto solid ground. So our afternoon safari was
shorter but it turned into an evening safari as well. And that was fine with us eager
The rest of our explorations at Araras were uneventful compared to that first afternoon.
No more truck dramas. However, our safari drives morning, afternoon, and night were
very productive for our desired wildlife viewing. This was not a lodge that advertised
itself as a good place to see jaguars so we were not surprised that we saw none. But
we did spot many bird species that we had never seen before as well as mammals that
were new to us in the wild.
Among the new birds we saw were scarlet-crested cardinals, purplish jays, savanna
hawks, black-collared hawks, several parakeet species, cocoi herons and the huge
jabiru storks nesting with chicks visible.
Among the mammals, we saw our first tapirs, marsh and brocket deer, the six banded
armadillo, and capuchin monkeys. We spent the longest time observing the charming
yellowish six-banded armadillos. Birds flit away quickly, deer are shy and skittish, and
tapir just lumber along not doing anything very interesting.
The very pale, almost creamy-white, six-banded armadillos were quite busy in their dry
open field home.
They had several holes to duck into when frightened and they also showed a lot of
interaction among themselves They would run at one another, a pair seemed to be
courting; they would waddle quickly away from outright confrontations; one was very
industriously cleaning out his home by digging and throwing excess sand and leaves
out of his doorway. All of them were very fetching and fun to observe. We even returned
to their little homeland on another occasion to watch them again, but there were not
many observable then.
Another interesting species we saw only at Araras were the two varieties of peccaries: the white-lipped and the collared. The white-lipped fellows are only in Central and South America, but the collared subspecies is familiar to us since they are common the
United States’ western states.
Perhaps the most curious and mysterious bird we saw during the whole trip was the
Sun Grebe. There are two things about him that make him stand out as highly unusual. His
strange feet are what immediately meets the eye, if you can see him perched
somewhere rather than in the water. His webbed feet have distinct lobed "fingers" which
are marked by black and white circular stripes from top of feet to the toes.
The other phenomenon is even more incredible and peculiar to this bird alone in the
avian world. But this is something you cannot see unless you can lift his wings (unlikely
in the wild). The male bird has a
marsupial-like pouch beneath his wings where the
chicks can hide and be carried. There are many questions about this unique feature: for
instance, how the chicks actually get inside the pouch, does the male or female place
them there, are they fed there, how long do they stay there, and oddest of all, why does
only the male carry this pouch?
There are certainly other animal and bird species where the male does the caretaking of
the young animals. The Rheas of South America and the Emus of Australia show this
practice. Even Sea Horses are known for this behavior. The Wattled Jacana male has the
ability to tuck his charges under his wings to take them to safety, but he has no
pouch. He just holds them tightly between wing and body. So the Sun Grebe is an
entirely singular bird.
IMMATURE WATTLED JACANA
S ECOND S TOP : P ANTANAL M ATO G ROSSO H OTEL
Our next stop for two days along the Pantaneria Highway was the Pantanal Mato Grosso Hotel which offered unforgettable boat trips on the Pixaim River. Our drive along the
thumpy bumpy highway afforded us many more looks at the roadside creatures:
birds, caimans in profusion, capybaras. So we were never bored on the long drives
The Pixaim River is interesting in that it is a river which in dry season is interrupted by
higher lands which emerge as barriers to river flow. So there are "dead-ends" to
various forks along the river's course. In wet season, all the barriers are covered and
the river flows without interruptions. So it is labeled a "seasonal river." Nonetheless its
segmented parts offer water to the wildlife and places for tourists to travel along the
banks searching for birds and mammals.
The Hotel was comfortable and again the food was quite good: lots of fresh vegetables
and fruits and tasty main course dishes. Our private rooms were comfortable and
spacious and the air-conditioning was efficient even in the really hot weather we were
experiencing. There were many shady places to sit outside and watch the birds at the
numerous feeders spread around the main public building where the reception area was
located as well as the dining room where we were fed so lavishly and deliciously.
The fas t - boat rides were the high points of
this visit. We enjoyed two daily: one in the
morning and the other in the afternoon.
The river was very placid and filled with
birds of so
whether a.m. or p.m. The riverside forest
galleries were wonderful homes to winged
residents and to some of the arboreal
mammals and even one species of reptile
as well. It was amusing to see the green
iguanas draped among the branches of the
trees taking in the sun.
Near one jabiru stork nest, a very substantial iguana was relaxing on a branch
immediately below the complicated architecture of the very large home the storks had
built for their chicks. Neither species seemed to be aware of the proximity of its
We saw capuchin monkeys, marsh deer, and brocket deer, capybaras and lots of
Brahma cattle that belong to local ranchers in the area. It was clear that there was
plenty of meat on the hoof to satisfy the jaguars, if any live in this part of the Pantanal.
Kingfisher species abounded as well and we even saw dragonflies in many different
colors. These river boat rides were just astounding for viewing the wildlife.
JABIRU STORKS WITH CHICKS
GIANT RIVER OTTERS
The most exciting boating adventure was seeing the giant river otters up close and
personal. The big male that swam directly at our boat looked as though he was going to
jump in and join us. In truth, the staff brings a few frozen fish along to feed them so they
are ready and willing to get close.
These are truly amazing animals. Their size - particularly the males - is stunning. And
the teeth and claws could easily make a mess of any human flesh stupid enough to
The staff also threw some fish to waiting hawks. They would tie the fish with a piece of
river greenery that had small air bladders. That way the fish would float and give the
bird a second chance if the first one failed.
BLACK COLLARED HAWK
The river was not considered safe for night rides due to fallen trees and other
dangerous obstacles to run aground on so at night we took safari road rides. On our first night drive here, our best sightings were of the Great Potoo (such an improbable bird) whose feathers so closely resemble tree bark and lichen. When he roosts on a branch
snag or a fence post he is almost impossible to see because his camouflage is just
perfect. The only way he was detected at night was through eye-shine. When the
spotlights swooped over him, his eyes would emit golden spears of light back at us. The
first we saw was actually sitting atop a conical shaped gray termite mound. His eye-
shine made him look for all the world like a little lighthouse flashing warning signals to
ships in the night.
Another really amazing experience here on the night drives was hearing the frog
species dubbed the Formula One frogs. Neither of our guides knew the real name of
these wonderful creatures. But their nickname was perfect: they sound exactly like race
cars on a curve going as fast as possible—that high whining sound. Close your eyes
and you are standing at one of those curves on a racecourse in Monaco!
Another surprising and even startling experience on a night ride here was our encounter with a Pauraque, a species of nightjar, who decided the search beams in our dark truck revealed to him where the insects he sought showed to best advantage. So he flew right
into the truck with us as he darted about trying to catch his supper. He is not a small
bird either so we were all dodging and maybe even emitting a squeal or two until he
sped out of the truck and we could see that he was a bird and not a bat as some feared.
On our 2nd day at the Pixaim river resort, we started the day with a birding walk along
the river bank. A different way of observing the vegetation that lives a little back from the
actual river bank. It was dramatic to see the high water marks on trees and bushes from
this angle as well as from the river. A really special sighting on this walk which we probably would never have seen from the boats was the Pantanal Black-tailed Marmoset. He is one of the family of very tiny primates who live in South America. Our guides and all of us were so happy to see him.
Another particularly beautiful creature we observed, not for the last time, was a bird
most of us had never even heard of. the Glittering-throated Emerald looks quite a bit like a
hummingbird but he is an entirely different species. Tiny and fast-moving like
hummingbirds and therefore difficult to photograph well, he was still worth our patience
in working for the perfect shot. Later on the trip, we would see him many times but
never took him for granted.
The afternoon boat ride was very productive as well. We were quite struck with the
beautiful and artistic patterns created by the exposed roots of the trees and bushes
living so close to the river bank that they were being undermined by the river's currents.
It was pretty clear that many of the most dramatic of these "prop" roots were omens of
the ultimate fall of these plants. So many seemed to be hanging on by one stringy root
with its "claws" clinging to the sandy bank. This year's rainy season would probably
bring many that we were admiring down into the river water. But these snags just off the
banks provided excellent perches for the birds and even the iguanas who lived along
BLACK AND GOLD HOWLER MONKEY
While we were in primate mode, we also got a tantalizing look at the Black and Gold Howler monkey. So well camouflaged in the heavy leafy vegetation, the black and golden
females were very hard to photograph. However, we could bob and weave around
to see the creatures anyway. This was definitely a new primate species for all of us. Not to
break a trend, we also saw Pantanal Marmoset and Brown Capuchins on this walk.
This nice combination of explorations by boat, safari truck and on foot made our visit to
the Pantanal Mato Grosso Hotel thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding in every way!
T HIRD S TOP : P ORTO J OFRE
HOTEL PORTO JOFRE At the end of the Highway Pantaneria sits the Hotel Porto Jofre. It's a
huge property with many buildings to house tourists, serve meals, provide internet access,
and trees with enormous canopies to provide shade in the heavy heat to humans and
homes for the noisy resident hyacinth macaws and parakeets.
Mornings were cacophonous but
the sounds were joyous as the
birds greeted the morning. Chaco Chachalacas were the noisiest and easily woke all the others.
We needed no alarm clocks to be up at 5 AM. - this bird took care of that little chore .
One of the most prominent structures on the property was a 500 ft. long boardwalk over
a stream—this structure was the jaguar walk. Across the stream the jaguars were often
seen. So often that a webcam was placed there so anyone could see them strolling over
to the hotel property, usually at night. We were cautioned not the cross the boardwalk,
even in daylight, unless there were at least two of us walking together. We were clearly
instructed NOT to cross the walk after dark no matter how many of us wanted to stroll
That was a sign that was very welcome to the big cat lovers who were so eager to see
jaguars in the wild. We knew that our best chance of seeing these gorgeous cats was
during our four days here in Porto Jofre. And the signs with "night cam" pictures of the
felines were convincing evidence that we had arrived in the right place!
However, our first sighting of a yellow-ginger cat was not a jaguar. When we went to the
dining hall from our cabin for breakfast the first morning, we spotted on the porch of
the building a rather beat up ginger tom cat—felis domesticus. He was obviously waiting
for breakfast handouts and the property manager, Norman, was already there feeding
him, lunch meat and cheese.
Norman told us that the cat's name is Harold Christian and he had lived there on the
property a little over two years. We were amazed that a jaguar had not already taken
him for a breakfast snack. For the next three days, we also took turns feeding poor lop-
eared Harold. Norman expressed to us his worries about the cat during the 4 months
that the hotel is closed. We asked if there would not be a caretaker during the down-
time and the answer was affirmative. So we suggested that the caretaker be requested
(bribed) to see to Harold during that time with the understanding that when Norman
returned he would look for the cat and if Harold was well, the caretaker could expect a
bonus above his regular salary. Norman thought that was a grand idea and agreed that
he would try it this year. We certainly hope that the plan works because Harold Christian
looks like a survivor in a hostile world.
Hotel Porto Jofre specializes in boat explorations on the Cuiaba River & its many
tributaries. The hotel runs really fast boats (light aluminum skiffs powered by 150
horsepower outboards). The boats carried 10 or 11 people each. Normally, it would take
about 1 to 1 & 1/2 hours to reach the point where we would begin exploring a particular
We went out in the these boats twice daily: once at 6 a.m. and then again at 3:30 or 4:00.
The average session lasted until right before lunch (noon) and dinner (7 p.m.)! So there
was lots of boat riding for sure!
AMERICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER
The first full-day boat rides (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) were so
exhilarating. The temperatures were mild, at least when the boats were flying as fast as
possible, the sky was so blue and high over our heads, punctuated with the such
dreamy white clouds, and we all enjoyed the air rushing through our hair after the really
hot days on the Pixaim and at Azaras. Birds were everywhere, on branches, in the sky,
on the river side banks, in the water
Of course on the first day's boat rides we were all eager for a jaguar but that wish was
not to be satisfied on that day. All we really saw were suggestions of jaguar coats
behind thick foliage . No one really saw a whole jaguar; we all saw rosettes and knew
there was a jaguar just behind the scrim of riverbank bushes. But no jaguar appeared so we could see him whole. Herewith, a differentiation between jaguar spots and leopard spots. Since we were so well-versed in this difference, we knew the spots
before our eyes could only belong to the jaguar. Ha! Ha! How about the fact that we
also really did know that only jaguars live in South America. Therefore, no leopards in
Brazil. Pretty easy, right?
The second day of speedboat explorations saw an enormous change in the weather!
Instead of flying along under blue skies feeling relief from the heat as we sped along,
suddenly we were under sullen gray overcast skies and the winds in our faces were no
longer pleasant. WE WERE FREEZING!
No one had brought clothing for this 180 turn in the temps. We ended up that day using
our life vests as shields against the winds. Those folks wearing sandals and shorts or
cut-offs were particularly uncomfortable. But there was no slowing the boats down
because the distances to be covered could not be shortened. The most discouraging
thing about the abrupt weather swap was that the guides told us that we would be less
likely to see jaguars along the riverbanks when the weather turns cool. Oh woe! Now
we were really unhappy—at least those of us whose primary reason for visiting the
Pantanal was the opportunity to see jaguars in the wild. It was no more comforting when
they told us that this weather change was highly unusual at this time of year.
But Guess What—Surprise! The weather gods did NOT ruin our trip! That very morning
as chilly as we were, we saw our first whole entire jaguar! He was sitting in a perfect
frame of vegetation but was totally visible.
Even though the sky was overcast, a golden spotlight bathed him in clear and glowing
light as if he were on a stage. And to us, of course, he was the star of the whole show!
He lounged there in regal splendor for quite some time, yawning and displaying his
formidable teeth and very long deep pink tongue. He demonstrated feline grooming
techniques as he washed his paws and his face as well as behind his ears. When he
grew bored with us staring at him, he raised up on his front legs and stretched
languorously for a few seconds. Then he disdainfully turned and disappeared into the
deep vegetation behind his lounging platform. No wonder jaguars can be so hard to
see; they can disappear with just a couple of steps—their camouflage is highly effective.
For the next 2 days, the weather was just as temperamental—really chilly in the speed
boats. However, now we were forewarned and forearmed. Everybody brought extra
coverings to the boats: towels from their rooms, more layers of clothing if they had any,
ponchos to repel the winds, closed shoes with socks rather than sandals. Even cold
weather could not dampen our spirits now that we had seen that jaguars do roam the
riverbanks even when the chilly winds blow!
Each one of the boat rides we took revealed different scenery, different vegetation,
different water colors, different birds (as well as the ones becoming more familiar to us),
different mammals and their special behaviors.
We jumped aboard those skiffs both morning and afternoons eager to see what that
excursion would reveal to us. We were never disappointed. The Pantanal was alive with
so much natural scenery and so many creatures, particularly the amazing varieties of
On our last and most special day, we were on the Negrinho River early in the morning
and we had the entire tributary to ourselves, This river was the most beautiful in itself,
black water instead of the more common ochre, delicate vegetation on the riverbanks,
picturesquely overhanging the calm and reflective waters, twittering birds everywhere
and lots of animal life to see as well. Adding to the amazing morning was the fact that
the overcast skies had been replaced by beautiful blue skies and the pillowy white
clouds. The air temperature had also turned warmer but not hot!
Cruising along this
river setting was glorious!
We had barely gotten into this tributary when we had our best jaguar experience of this
part of the Pantanal! And we were not surrounded by many other riverboats all
jockeying for positions to assure their tourists had the best views. We had these two
jaguars to ourselves and it was fabulous.
The first one we saw was an adult male who was moving about checking on scents in
his area. The boat driver said that there was a female in the vicinity and so it was
assumed that he was checking on her whereabouts.
He would stroll along the river, disappear behind the vegetation momentarily, reappear
with his nose to the ground, and groom a little while, perhaps in anticipation of
her return. Kay took so many unobstructed pictures of this really fine fellow and
we all stared in amazement at his size and his beauty.
Jaguars are the largest of the cats in the South America, but there are several other cat
species living alongside this giant feline. There are Margay, Ocelot, Pantanal Cat (also
known as the Pampas Cat), Jaguarundi, and Puma. The smaller ones are very hard to
see in the wild and even the pumas are not common. The only one of these lesser cats
we actually observed, to be described later, was the ocelot. And we were told that we
were very lucky to see one of those critters. Just in case you ever wondered, the only
big cats who purr are the snow leopard and the cheetah; the lion, leopard, jaguar, and
tiger all roar rather than purr. No cat species can both purr and roar.
Back to the jaguar sightings—while we were enjoying the big male and his activities, it
took us a little while to notice another jaguar cat arriving behind the bushes a little to the
right of the big fellow who was giving up on the female returning. He was backing away
into the brush himself and disappearing. We had no time to be disappointed because a
young female came into view somewhat down the river and around a bend.. We moved
our skiff closer to her and the guide and boat driver both said it was unlikely that the big
fellow was tracking her scent because he never reappeared. She definitely appeared to
be much younger and smaller than the first. But she gave us a good show as well. Two
jaguars in one session and again with no other boats around!
Another interesting phenomenon we had noticed earlier on other tributaries was the little
eruptions in the surface waters which appeared to be little geysers. On the Negrinho,
these were much more numerous and fun to watch. There was considerable
speculation as what could be causing the little fish (or some other creatures in the
water) to come to the surface in such numbers. We never got a definitive answer, but
the most plausible seemed to be that the fish were seeing insects on the water surface
and rising up to snatch them. One person suggested they might be coming up for air, so
to speak, but that seemed odd since most fish do not breathe in air but in water. A
couple of the fish actually jumped out of the water and into our boat!
We saw nesting male and female rufous-tailed jacamars scurrying about collecting
nesting materials while also displaying courting behaviors. These are very colorful
songbirds, rather like our painted buntings, except they are somewhat larger.
The river surface was covered in water hyacinths in lovely blooms—light and darker
purple blossoms like wisteria flowers except that the water-borne ones stand upright
rather than drooping so lazily in the light breezes. The pretty flowers created a soft
sweet aroma in the area as well. Just a lovely time to be "cruising down the river."
While we drifted along, we also saw a caiman rise up out of the water with a rather large
catfish in his mouth. The fish was speckled with orange colorations on his scales—a
very pretty fish actually. But he was
also clearly doomed if not already
gone by the time we saw him
An interesting bird we saw was the
Crane Hawk, a gangly predatory bird,
gray in color, who uses his very long
legs to pursue his prey differently
from other predatory birds.
Rather than flying down to the water and scooping up his prey or catching it on the fly,
this bird reaches with those long legs into crevices and holes in trees to get eggs or
young birds for his supper. The legs look out of proportion to the rest of the bird's body
because of their surprising length. " All the better to reach you, my dear."
During our drift down the peaceful river towards evening, we came upon two trees
leaning over the river that were filled with spectacular birds, white with reddish-orange
breeding plumage. At breeding time, the really remarkable thing about them is that their
irises turn the same color as the feathers on their heads and necks. These lovely
creatures flying back and forth, landing & taking off filling the skies with their long white
wings were very familiar to us—they were Cattle Egrets, the bird that has managed to
occupy every continent except Antarctica.
On other days on less magical tributaries than the Negrinho, we nevertheless saw
marvelous sites—like the capybara families on shore.
Sometimes an adult would be in the water with the babies standing around watching.
We even saw one mother try to lure her baby into some lily-pad covered water with her.
But the baby was very hesitant and when he finally ventured in, he didn't last long even
though the cool water must have felt good. He just turned around and headed back to
the safety of the shore and then the mother followed him.
We had two special encounters with giant otters while visiting the Cuiaba River and its
tributaries. During the first one we watched a family cruising up and down the river bank
near their home den. They treated us to the many vocalizations they can create.
Unearthly sounds for sure. Some loud like screaming, others low like booming drums,
another more like a croon. Truly amazing. The Giant Otters are prodigious hunters with
huge teeth; they can even compete with jaguars for prey. Very muscular and powerful
swimmers. Their faces are fierce in expression but another experience revealed what
caring parents they are.
On another swifter river, we watched a family try to cross a really strong current to reach
the opposite side where their den obviously lay. The adults had no trouble at all, but the
3-4 month old babies were struggling and unable to cross over.
The adults kept swimming back and forth trying to coax the two youngsters to follow
them, but it was no use. They just didn't have the strength or maybe the nerve. At any
rate, two of the adults swam back to the other side and each put a baby in its mouth
where the tail was hanging out one side and the face out the other and carried the
babies to the safety of the den.
The other otter species who lives in Brazil is the Neotropic River Otter. We also saw this much
smaller otter displaying his customary behavior and we learned a new word
connected with his territory marking. That word is "spraint" and it describes the otter's
habit of smearing portions of his dung to signify to other otters that he is in this territory.
The fellow we watched was "sprainting" all over and around a fallen log and he was
quite busy at it. He is sinuous and muscular just as are the giant otters and the North
American river otters. He is playful as are the others.
To compare the three species, here are some statistics. The giant otter can be up to 6 ft.
long and weigh up to 75 lbs. He can use 9 different vocalizations to communicate with
his family. The neotropic river otter tops out at 33 lbs and can reach 3 to 4 feet in length.
North American river otters are similar in size to the Neotropic otters. By contrast,
sea otters can reach 50 to 100 lbs. and can be 4 to 5 ft. Long. All these otters can
vocalize, but the giant otter has much the largest "vocabulary."
One of the most ubiquitous creatures in the Pantanal is the Yacare Caiman. He is South
America's answer to our Alligator. He doesn't grow to quite the size of the gator but he
is not too far behind. His eyes sit a little higher on top of his head and he shows more
teeth than a gator when his mouth is closed but not as many as the crocodile reveals.
Fearsome as he looks, he can easily become Jaguar food. We were surprised at this
revelation—he seems way too formidable for a jaguar to chance attacking him. But
apparently they regularly do, especially the smaller ones. We actually saw a good-sized
caiman, dead, and pulled up on the bank where 3 vultures were feasting.
The guides said only a jaguar could have drug him from the river after the kill.
For a good comparison of the three species, check out this link.
F OURTH S TOP : B ONITO AND A SINKHOLE
We stayed in this lovely tourist town of Bonito at the Pousada Ohlo de Aguas Hotel which
looked quite prosperous for only one night. This property was very attractive and I think
we all would have enjoyed staying another night or two. But we were here for only one
purpose—to visit Buraco das Araras. Before we visited this singular site, we enjoyed
the best meal we had on the entire trip to Brazil. The food was exquisite and what the
wonderful lady chef could do with manioc was just so delicious. I think everyone
was blown away by all the food she served us during that lunch. It was not that the
meal's ingredients were that different, it was the special way she used various spices to
render the food so flavorful. We probably all would have taken her back home with us if
only she could have brought all her spices and food combinations with her.
Buraco das Araras
In 1986 a cowboy named Modesto Sampaio purchased 247 acres not far from the
town of Bonito. He discovered that part of his acreage contained a huge sinkhole
(formed from the collapse of a cave) that was 407 feet deep and 525 feet in diameter. It
was filled with trash and garbage and occupied by multiple vultures. In 1997 after hearing
that red and green macaws had inhabited the sinkhole in years past, he decided to clean it
It was difficult to imagine how he managed such a feat when we looked down into the
prodigious hole and observed how steep the sides are—nearly perpendicular. But
Modesto was determined and accomplished the task. Once it was cleaned out, he
realized that there was a pool at the bottom
providing water to wildlife who could utilize
the sinkhole. So he released a captive pair of
red & green macaws into the sinkhole and
they pretty quickly flew out and away.
However, within a couple of days, they
returned and brought about 10 wild macaws
with them. The bird complement now is
about 100 macaws.
In 2000, the macaws decided they had had enough of their neighbors, the vultures, and
drove them out in screaming bird battles. Then Modesto decided to make his treasure
into a Natural Heritage Private Preserve (RPPN) and so the area will be preserved in
perpetuity even if someday his family wishes to sell the land. Nowadays, the macaws
willingly share their vertical walls with all its accommodating cracks and ledges for nests
with spectacled owls and buff-necked ibis as well. There are also caimans in the pool at
the bottom but researchers are at a loss to explain how they got there and how
they continue to survive.
Modesto the cowboy now owns a popular tourist attraction which supports his family
handsomely. He added trails to the sinkhole from the entrance to his land and built
observation platforms where delighted visitors can enjoy the spectacular flights of these
beautiful birds as they come and go from the sinkhole. In flight these birds are
flamboyant and magnificent.
Our short stay in Bonito was certainly very much worthwhile! We loved the food and the
lovely birds of the Buraco. And lots of kudos to Modesto Sampaio who brought the birds
back and even gave them protection forever!However long that turns out to be!
S NORKELING T HE R IO D E P RATA
We left the Pousada Ohlo de Aguas by our comfortable touring bus heading south
toward the Caiman Lodge, our last ecolodge stop. But we paused on the way for a
surprise snorkeling adventure. All the necessary gear was provided and the group was
divided in two for the drifting float down a crystal clear freshwater river—supposedly
also clear of caimans and man-eating piranhas. The cool Rio de Prata lived up to the hype
and the 2-3 hour drift was enjoyed by the participants. Many colorful fish were seen &
photographed with underwater cameras.
The many colorful birds congregated on the large property which also provided
showers, changing rooms, shaded sitting spaces, and a restaurant for a substantial
lunch. There were macaws and parakeets enjoying the feeding platforms. Other smaller
birds (unidentified) also slipped in amongst their larger brethren to sneak a bite too.
After lunch, we reboarded our bus and headed on down the smoother but still
treacherous gravel highway towards the Caiman Lodge and Fazenda (cattle ranch). We
saw many of the usual suspects along the way—birds, capybaras, caimans but we
weren't bored at all. We rode through agricultural properties, most of them really cattle
ranches and if crops were being grown, we couldn't identify them. We did learn that the
huge mango trees all over the area which were heavy with so much fruit are not
commercially harvested or shipped. The local peoples use them and so do the many
fruit-eating birds and mammals—like tapirs and a couple of species of bats.Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15 Page 16 Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22 Page 23 Page 24 Page 25 Page 26 Page 27 Page 28 Page 29 Page 30 Page 31 Page 32 Page 33 Page 34 Page 35 Page 36 Page 37 Page 38 Page 39 Page 40 Page 41 Page 42 Page 43 Page 44 Page 45 Page 46 Page 47 Page 48 Page 49 Page 50 Page 51 Page 52 Page 53 Page 54 Page 55 Page 56 Page 57 Page 58 Page 59 Page 60 Page 61 Page 62 Page 63 Page 64 Page 65 Page 66 Page 67 Page 68 Page 69 Page 70 Page 71 Page 72 Page 73 Page 74 Page 75 Page 76 Page 77 Page 78 Page 79 Page 80 Page 81 Page 82 Page 83 Page 84 Page 85 Page 86 Page 87 Page 88 Page 89 Page 90 Page 91 Page 92 Page 93 Page 94 Page 95 Page 96 Page 97 Page 98 Page 99 Page 100
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