Pantanal is the largest tropical wetland in the world encompassing parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and mostly Brazil. I consider it as a flooded Serengeti due to the diversity of wildlife. I visited there first in 2011 and as everywhere in the world it has gotten more crowded since then; all want a photo of a jaguar. It is an easy adventure since one is in a boat 100% of the time.
Jaguars are my favorite of the large cats, not the biggest, but have the most powerful jaws and their stare really surpasses that of the leopards, tigers and pumas - kind of hypnotizing. They are easy to see since they tend to walk at the edge of the rivers looking for prey. One can follow their routines as the one below that decided to take a siesta and slept for about 2 hours, woke and went looking for lunch but failed in his first attempt.
Our jaguar found a family of capybaras resting on a small island and went for the chase. Fortunately they lived to experience another chase; the cat took a look at me and decided that I did not look tasty. Capybaras are the largest rodents and semiaquatic and I call them the hippos of South America because of their similar behavior. Interestingly they eat their own feces to obtain bacteria that help in the digestion of the cellulose in the grass they eat.
The giant river otters live in families and very playful and always communicating with penetrating squeaks. Very efficient fish catchers since they work in groups. After meals they go to the shore to sleep but they are very alert and when a jaguar approaches the alarms is sounded and all go to the river and watches the frustrated cat.
Caymans are the most abundant and are everywhere; they are a regular staple of the jaguars and in their turn they prey on whatever they can get including their smaller siblings. They are hunted and the meat has the taste and consistency of chicken, so don’t hesitate to try it.
The waterways are surrounded by thick vegetation with all kinds of fruits and flowering trees. Below is what I recognize as an anon; these fruits have various name throughout the Latin American countries. It has a very tasty white meat from which milk shakes and ice cream are made. Next is a young strangulating fig tree that eventually will kill the host and grow into huge trees. It happened that when I was there all plants were flowering and a few samples are below…there is a scent of perfume in the air.
The orchid flower with the pod resembles those I saw in Madagascar from which vanilla is extracted; but this is a different species. Ironically Vanilla was first cultivated in Mexico but the largest commercial supply comes from Madagascar. It the second most expensive spice after saffron and causes dermatitis when one comes in contact with the sap.
Pantanal has been overrun by ecotourism that when overdone becomes detrimental and is getting extreme here. When a jaguar is found, the tour company boats arrive within minutes and overwhelm the area without respect for those already there. The struggle begins among the boats to get the preferred spot to photograph the cats. I observed this time just plain tourists not interested in photographing; when I was there before all were photographers and only small boat with a capacity for 2-3 persons were used; 15-20 are the rule with some of the boats with a lower and higher platforms with swivel chairs like those using in fishing boats…pretty soon they will be air-conditioned too.
The by-product of tourism below is a trash pile in one of the lodges. But there the locals also made a living by fishing. The fish are numerous, colorful and great tasting; to me they are better than ocean fish. And by the end of the day, a great sunset is in store.