Wildlife Holiday News

Watching Jaguars in Brazil's Pantanal

A customer travelled on our 'Brazil - Just Jaguars' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.



‘He’s so beautiful!’ I gasped, and the cameras around me clicked away excitedly. We had boarded the boats at 6.00am, just as dawn broke, and had left for our first trip along the winding river. As we rounded a bend we saw him up above us on the bank, majestically surveying us and his territory - our first sighting of a Brazilian Jaguar in the Pantanal. This was Three Spot, so called because of a distinctive pattern of spots on his coat, and we were in his territory. He showed no fear of us and continued to pose for the cameras until he decided he’d graciously given us enough of his time, then slowly rose to his feet and strolled away into the forest.

I knew we were looking for Jaguars - after all, the tour was called ‘Just Jaguars!’, but I’d never expected to be so overwhelmed by my first sighting of the third largest of the big cats, after the Tiger and the Lion. And the Pantanal Jaguars seemed to be a healthy population, because the following evening we went out on to the river at dusk, and in the beam of a strong torch we watched another Jaguar climbing through the vegetation on the edge of the bank. From her markings we were told this was Pacman, the female from a territory adjacent to Three Spot’s, and she was soon to give birth to his cubs. Recent wildlife programmes on TV have featured other large predators - Polar Bears, Cheetahs - looking gaunt as they struggle to find enough prey to keep them and their young well fed, perhaps as a result of climate change or human interference. The same could not have been said about Three Spot and Pacman - they were the picture of health.

It was winter time in the Pantanal - the dry season. We travelled the length of the Transpantaneira, 145 km of well-maintained dirt road which was wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass each other comfortably - except at the 125 single-track bridges. All along the way we kept alert, on the watch for wildlife, and there was plenty. We became accustomed to seeing families of Capybara around and in the waterholes, and initially ignored the piles of logs nearby until we realised that these were caiman crowded together, sometimes on top of each other because of a shortage of space. These two contrasting species seemed to co-exist peacefully - perhaps the Capybaras could judge when a caiman was hungry and so beat a hasty retreat!

Our first stop along the highway was at a ranch in the drier part of the region, which was home to 14 Hyacinth Macaws. These, the largest of the macaws, are a brilliant blue colour and were one of the birds I’d been looking forward to seeing. We awoke to their noisy chatter as they greeted one another at sunrise. It was at the ranch, too, that one evening we were invited through the kitchen to the back yard, where a young tapir was scrumping fruit. We were told that his mother had introduced him to the tree and its delights, and he nonchalantly tested each windfall with his strange extended top lip, only eating the ones that were just right. On the last afternoon in that area, we had been punted gently along a shallow lake through patches of floating water plants, whilst ahead of us birds called warnings of our approach. As dusk fell we made our return, nightjars fluttering all around us, their wing beats more like that of butterflies rather than birds - magical.

The highway ended at the river, where we stayed for the second half of our tour at a holiday complex with bungalows overlooking the water. We had noticed the vegetation becoming greener and denser as we approached the area, and looked forward to searching out the wildlife of this new environment from the boats.

Family parties of Giant River Otters would swim along under the overhanging vegetation of the riverbank, rippling sinuously through the water, diving under and then reappearing with a fish which was noisily scrunched with enjoyment. And one day we slowly passed a caiman in the water alongside the bank - she was using her body as a protective barrier as she watched her newly hatched young struggling, scrambling and sliding down the bank into the river for their first swim kept from harm by their mother.

This was an exciting tour of contrasts, relived through our photos. And do we often remind ourselves of that first sight of a Jaguar? Well, it has to be just in our mind’s eye - my husband was so overawed by such a beautiful creature that he completely forgot to take any photos!

Read more about our 'Brazil - Just Jaguars' holiday.