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In Search of Brazil’s Giant Ant Eater

Ever since I was an embryo, I have always been in love with weird creatures. Colugos, giant octopi, dugongs, army ants, armadillos, max greebos, and of course, giant anteaters. This week, as I guide for ORYX Photo Tours on a Pantanal photography tour, I got to meet my first giant anteater. It’s been a childhood dream. I was expecting one, two, perhaps even three or four encounters while on photo safari. I had no idea that they are as common as trailer trash here amongst the Brahman cattle fields and Brazilian haciendas of the Pantanal. I stopped counting at 50.Even though one can drive around the farm roads and the highways and spot giant anteaters loping between termite mounds, sheep and cattle quite often, it’s another thing trying to get into a good position to photograph on a Pantanal photo safari.

They do not walk in straight lines. They amble wherever their very large nose takes them. A termite mound here, a termite mound there, they do have a pretty damn good sense of smell. With a nose like that, what would one expect?

If they get a whiff of you, they are gone.

To get myself, and my photographic clients, into optimum position, one must carefully overtake a giant anteater on foot, being ever so careful not to make a sound or to be seen or to get upwind of them. They will bolt like shaggy Casta Semanas, and vanish into the forests or woodlands that border the pastures they so favor.

It has happened dozens upon dozens of times over the past few days on our photography expedition as we endeavour to capture them in our viewfinders.

Pantanal photography tour
So, we choose a tree of shrub and try to get there as fast and quietly as possible ahead of the big nosed beast. Mostly, the anteater will cotton on and vanish. Other times they will walk slowly and purposefully towards our cunning concealment, only to change direction at the last minute and amble off after a winged termite , or whatever.

Its hit and miss. We throw our hopes to the wind. But then sometimes, magic happens and a giant anteater will be so intent on sniffing out termites here and there, that he or she completely fails to notice us. They come closer and closer and closer still, until we can hear their snuffles and the raking of their enormous claws in the hard soil of a nearby termitariuam (is that even a word?)

That’s when we regret we only have telephoto lenses. They are too close to focus on.

It’s happened four times in three days now on our photography tour, that a half blind, perhaps half brained, giant anteater has ambled to within inches of where we were gathered, our cameras clicking away in silent shutter mode; our breathing slow and quiet.

Its been magical.

photography tour
These shaggy beasts have passed so close we could smell them, and they never even knew we were there. I do not exaggerate when I say we have been crouched in silent awe as these bizarre creatures have intently dug away at the soil no more than a meter away from where we were.

Sometimes they appear to know something is awry. They lift their Lex Steel like apparatus into the air and swing it two and fro, sniffing loudly, but as long as the wind is in our favor, they seem not to notice we are there.

Literally, I thought they would walk over us. We have seen shaggy males with tales like giant witch’s brooms, mothers with tiny long nosed babies clinging to their outlandish hair. Each encounter, more magical than the last.

It’s been challenging, but wonderful Pantanal photo safari. Giant anteaters rock!!!

(and so do armadillos- but that’s a different story)

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