Brazil ~ Pantanal

01 July 2024

This awesome jaguar was relaxing on the high riverbank about twenty yards from our boat. Then she stared at me for a few seconds, and I managed to get a photo that does justice to her power and beauty.

The world's largest tropical wetland is the Pantanal in western Brazil.

● Covering an area of roughly 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles), the Pantanal is larger than the nearby country of Uruguay or the state of Nebraska.

● About 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the November-February rainy season.

● Not only is the Pantanal famous for its jaguars, it has an astonishing amount of biodiversity with over 600 bird species and over 300 species of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

Most jaguars can be found in the northern part of the Pantanal, so I flew into Cuiabá where I joined two Peruvians, two South Africans, three other Americans, and Lucas, our upbeat, knowledgeable Brazilian guide. We had a long, rough ride to the SouthWild Lodge for a night before going farther south for a boat ride to SouthWild's Flotel, a unique, cozy, floating hotel.

Jags are found elsewhere in the Pantanal, but the big cats are especially concentrated in this area called "Jaguarland," a name coined by Dr. Charles Munn, the leader in jaguar protection here.

This striking jaguar is not the same as the one in the top photo. Notice the different pattern of spots between the eyes.

My photos were fuzzy here, but I still like the jaw-dropping scene when I saw this jaguar drag a large caiman into the underbrush to eat.
Caiman are smaller cousins of alligators, and the Pantanal has many jacaré caiman. They can reach about 6' long (nearly 2 meters) if a jaguar does not eat them first.

Jaguars often spend time on riverbanks searching for their favorite prey — caiman. We were able to follow along with this one for over half an hour.

We watched quietly as she went down to the river. Sometimes their fur looks more tawny and tan depending on the light and setting. It always seems to be good camouflage, as it is here.

Another jaguar soaking wet after a going after a caiman in the water.

A rare instance when I stood briefly on the land in the heart of Jaguarland. Other two pics show the usual boat ride looking for jaguars — above with great adventurers Duncan (who has been to both poles!) and Doreen.

The bad news is that sometimes a jaguar was surrounded by as many as 15 boats! Happily, sometimes we were the only boat around.

While jaguars steal the safari show, we saw other fascinating animals in the wild:

Top row:
  ● Jabiru storks and egrets were the most common birds we saw
  ● Capybara (world's largest rodent but cute; jags find them tasty)

Middle row:
  ● Ocelot (elusive, nocturnal cat like a dwarf jaguar)
  ● Giant otters (always entertaining)

Last row:
  ● Tapir (quite rare to see, so a real treat on the last day)
  ● Rufous-tailed jacamar (one of many bird species we saw)

We got to see this cattle drive as six pantaneiros (the word for cowboys in the Pantanal and Mato Grosso) herded these hundreds of Indo-Brazilian Brahman cattle.

Sunrise in Brazil's phenomenal Pantanal

Technically no longer in the Pantanal, on the way to the airport I stopped by Cuiabá's Parque Mãe Bonifácia to see cute little black-tailed marmosets leap from tree to tree.

What a wonderful week!