Wednesday, October 3, 2018

In search of the Aguara Guazu

Searching for the Aguara Guazu or Maned Wolf, I ended up in The Sanctuary of Caraça  in Catas Altas, Minas Gerais , Brazil.  I first learned about this wolf from a photograph I saw in Argentina 3 years earlier which started the chase.  The Aguara Guazu is nocturnal and rare so it is a big challenge to photograph.  First arranged to go to a national park in Brazil where it is found but was not assured that I would even see and even less to photograph so opted to go the Sanctuary. The painting below was done by a German artist George Grimm at the request of the Brazilian Emperor Don Pedro II who visited here in 1881. The following image is a close-up of the church and the area looks now very similar to the painting.

 Going to Caraça was in search of the Aguara Guazu or Maned Wolf (Chrysocyion brachyrus) whose images are below.  Due to darkness good quality images were not obtained and the ones below, the first one was taken with an iPhone6 and the next one with a Canon 5DIII. These animals are fed every night in the church yard that has become a tourist attraction, a practice beginning in the mid-1980s’. Honestly the fact that I was not able to get an image of this majestic animal in a natural setting was not a disappointment, just watching it was a great reward.

 Aguara Guazu means large fox in the Guarani language and is also called red wolf but is not closely related to either as well as dogs and coyotes. It is the taller than those mentioned before. They prey on small mammals, birds and fish but largely feed on fruits and vegetables. Avoids man, it is usually solitary and are a threatened species.

 The Sanctuary was a surprise as to how in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Brazil, it came to be erected beginning in 1774 by the efforts of Brother Lourenço who died in October 27, 1819, about 96 years old. He arrived at the site in the early 1770’s and started construction of the original hermitage which was demolished in 1876 and the new Gothic Style Sanctuary consecrated in 1883. The tower is about 160 feet in height and the cross on top is said to contain slivers of wood taken from the Christ crucifixion cross. The interior of the church is impressive and below the altar (next image) is the body of St. Pius who was martyred in Roman times; the body is covered with wax and was sent by Pope Pius VI. I wander what caused these remains to end up here.

 After Lourenço’s death, a congregation of Portuguese priests arrived and established a boarding school resulting in additional expansions to the complex. The School teachings resulted in various prominent students, two of those eventually ended as presidents of Brazil.  It ceased as a school in 1968 due to a fire.

 The dining hall that survived the school fire brought back ancient memories of my youth that I spent in a Catholic boarding school. The hall was very similar in the lay-out and I recall marching into it and not allowed to seat until prayers.  Then the battle started for the food on the table; if not fast enough in grabbing the grub, one may have to be content just with bread and milk. At the end and far right of the hall is a painting of Don Viçoso whose photo is below. That  face is the stereotype of some of the priests that maintained law and order in the school of my youth.  The scowling look implied that you were going to hell.

Overall the visit to Caraça brought me not only finding the Aguara Guazu but youthful memories that fifty years later are not so somber, the bars were broken.

 The Sanctuary is located in a nature preserve with plenty of opportunities for landscapes and wildlife pictures.  The variety of flowers is amazing with lots of orchids and birds. There large forests in the complex with trails with excellent opportunities that reward with a variety of birds.

 The birds below are the saffron finch, the southern house finch, the chestnut bellied guan and the ferruginous pygmy owl followed by a Brazilian chipmunk.

Time to move on and write the Pantanal blog.