Brazil: Pantanal Safari Aug 20—Sep 02, 2017
Posted by Kevin Zimmer
Our 2017 Pantanal Safari served up the usual generous helpings of birds, mammals, and other wildlife that we have come to expect from “South America’s Serengeti.” For most, if not all of us, the number one objective of the trip was to see Jaguars, and see them we did, as we enjoyed 10 encounters with these magnificent cats, involving a total of 8 different individuals! The density of Jaguars in this region is astonishing—biologists studying these amazing animals since 2005 have been able to identify (and name) more than 130 individuals from the area that they are calling “Jaguar Land”! Not only are Jaguars particularly common here, they are also uncommonly large in stature. Adult males from the Pantanal routinely top 340 lbs, making them 100–150 lbs heavier than average-sized Jaguars from the Amazon or Central America. The reason appears to be “something in the water”—in this case, an abundance of aquatic or semi-aquatic prey in the form of Capybara and Yacaré Caiman. Much as is the case with Brown Bears in Alaska, where an abundance of easily harvested, fatty and protein-rich salmon along coastal streams has led to the impressive supersizing of coastal populations relative to their interior inhabiting relatives, Jaguars in the Pantanal have benefited from an abundance of prey that would be the envy of their rainforest-dwelling brethren to the north and west.
What was different with this year’s trip, was that our usual great Jaguar luck in “Jaguar Land” (the roughly 100 km2 area bounded by the rio Cuiabá, the rio Piquirí, and the rio Tres Irmãos, which we access based out of the Jaguar Flotel) was bookended by Jaguars on our first and last mornings along the rio Pixaím at Santa Teresa. In 26 years of visits to the rio Pixaím, I had never before seen a Jaguar here until this trip. On our first morning at Santa Teresa, we got wind of a Jaguar that had been spotted several kms upstream from the lodge. We immediately dropped what we were doing, piled into a couple of boats, and roared upstream. We found a lovely female, alternately resting in the shade, and actively working the river-edge in search of caiman and Capybaras. We stayed with her as long as we could, until she finally disappeared deep into the riverine forest. This proved an auspicious start indeed, scoring a Jaguar on our first full day in the field, at a locale where we had never seen one before. Fast-forward a full week and seven additional Jaguars later, and we were back at Santa Teresa for one more night before heading on to Pousada Piuval. With a lunch stop scheduled at Pousada Rio Claro, we had a few hours available for some final birding along the rio Pixaím. I decided to spend it on the river, rather than working the trail system on foot, in the hopes of finding a Sungrebe, or, better yet, a Zigzag Heron. We put some effort into searching for the Zigzag, pulling the boats into a little cove with perfect looking habitat, and where there had been a recent sighting a few weeks earlier. Despite periodic audio playback and much patient waiting, we caught nary a whiff of a Zigzag Heron. This was going to be a long shot from the beginning—Zigzags are seldom spontaneously vocal or particularly responsive during the dry season (breeding typically commences in October–November), and even then, they are very crepuscular creatures best seen at dusk—so I wasn’t too surprised to ‘dip’ on this bird. We did see a number of other birds while waiting, best of which was a pair of Little Cuckoos that popped out for superb views.
Read Kevin’s full report in his Field List.