Wildlife of the Pantanal with Dale Morris
The pink and yellow flowers of the tabaua trees made the Pantanal landscapes seem as if the typically green and brown trees of the world had been replaced by brightly coloured cotton candy. They are beautiful, and made for a stunning backdrop to a menagerie of Brazilian wildlife.
Herds of capybara (the world’s largest rodent) wandered across the open planes, whilst rhea (South Americas version of the ostrich) strutted their stuff and boomed with their low pulsing mating calls.
Best of all though, the Hyacinth Macaws, the world’s biggest (and dare I say, most beautiful) parrot are commonly seen. They grace the trees with their beauty. A splash of azure amongst the foliage. They are such stunning creatures, yet possess such awful voices. Makes them easy to find though.
Piuval was our first stop in this Brazil Photo Tour. A converted cattle ranch where wildlife is made welcome.
We drove around in our open safari vehicle in search for birds (of which the Pantanal has plenty) but also in the hopes of encountering a giant shaggy anteater which are uncommonly seen loping through the pastures, looking for juicy termites to terrorize.
Much to my surprise, on our first photographic outing, we found a large old male Jaguar.
Although its common to find Jags along the waterways of the Pantanal, this is the first time I have ever seen one on one of the cattle ranches here, and certainly the first time I have seen one from a land-based vehicle.
Their presence is testimony to the evolving relationship that farmers have with these big cats.
Jaguars have become such a draw card for photographers such as us, that it has become advantageous for land owners (who once would have seen Jaguars as a threat to their livelihoods and livestock) to refrain from persecuting them.
We stay on their converted farms and hence, the jaguars provide an additional income to these ranchers and cowboys.
After two full days exploring this area, climbing the viewing towers and scoping out a myriad different bird species along the forest trails and flooded fields, we finally tracked down our bushy quarry.
Giant anteaters are pretty much blind, but as you can imagine, they have an amazing sense of smell. But the wind was in our favor, and so we decanted from our open safari vehicle and followed him for a while on foot.
They are such beguiling and odd creatures; and certainly, a highlight of our stay at Piuval.
Our next stop was a little ways down the trans Pantanal highway. ‘Highway’ is not really an accurate description for this dirt road. There are some 180 bridges on this, the only road, in the whole of the Northern Pantanal region. And most of those bridges are wooden and rickety affairs that will be utterly impassible during the flooded months.
The Pantanal is a landscape of great variance depending on what time of year you go.
For half of the year, regular floods will inundate the fields and submerge much of the ‘Highway’ but during the dryer months, the waters recede, leaving behind pools and lakes and snaking rivers.
Ayamara was our next stop. A quaint and charming nature retreat set amongst forests.
Again, there were birds. Lots and lots of birds. And a wonderful pair of hyacinth macaws nesting in a hole in a tree.
Our days were spent exploring the landscapes on vehicles; watching capuchin monkeys and the racoon like coatis as they wandered around the grounds. We took river trips on small speed boats to see fishing black collard eagles and herons, and we photographed several endearing kingfisher species as they plummeted like darts into the water.
There is no shortage of fish in the waterways and pools of the Pantanal, and this is what makes the place such a bird (and birders paradise)
From giant jabarus that stand as tall as a man to tiny hummingbirds who work the flowers with energetic diligence; bird life is ever present in an abundance unlike anywhere else on the planet.
In the evenings, we did night drives and encountered the unusual Tapir; a three toed horse relative that looks a little like a hybrid between a donkey and elephant. They have a prehensile ‘trunk’ which is used to browse only the most delicious of leaves.
After four days exploring the landscapes of the Pantanal, we boarded our floating hotel; a house boat that we sailed into the very heart of Jaguar territory.
Here in the rivers and tributaries, we encountered jaguar after jaguar as they patrolled the river banks in search of their favorite prey; the ancient and armor-plated caiman (a relative of the Alligator)
Although the comfortable house boat was our home, the majority of our photo sessions were done from the seats of our specially kitted speed boats. We explored up and down, keeping our eyes peeled for these typically elusive cats.
I say elusive, because elsewhere across their range (which is pretty much most of south and central America) you are very, very unlikely to ever see a jaguar. In the Pantanal however, we not only see them, we get to spend time with them.
They are habituated to the presence of boats and are therefore unconcerned with our presence. As such, we are afforded a window into their otherwise secretive lives.
We witnessed a mother and her grown cubs, we watched (and photographed) in awe as they hunted. We saw males fight and males form alliances. We even saw a kill right in front of our boat.
All in all, over the course of five days on the river system, we encountered 14 different jaguars.
But it’s not just the jaguars that make this place so special. There were giant river otters too.
These magnificent creatures: which attain a length of almost 2 meters, are rambunctious and playful. We were treated to several photo sessions with these playful wolves of the water as they played and swam and made life hell for a variety of unfortunate fish.
Every trip to the Pantanal is awesome. I’ve been there more than ten times over the past few years, and I love to show our guests the beautiful birds, primates, weird mammals, reptiles (we saw anacondas) and, of course, magnificent Jaguars that call this place there home.
The Panatanal never fails to delight, and it never fails to offer up magnificent photographic opportunities.
I can’t wait to get back there next year.
Join ORYX Senior Photo Tour Leader, Dale Morris, in Brazil in 2023 and 2024: