Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil's Pantanal 2016 Trip Report

By Joe Van Os on Oct 27, 2016

The oranges and lavenders of dawn appear on the horizon as we board our nimble speedboats and begin our search for jaguars along the Cuiabá River in Brazil’s Pantanal.  We stop mid-river to photograph the intense sunrise colors reflected in the swift current just as our boatman suddenly exclaims, “Jaguar!”  I nearly jump out of my skin!  I scan the riverbank.  To me there is no big cat in sight.  But over the years I have learned never to doubt the uncanny ability of our boat drivers to spot these amazing animals, as they doze in the dense vegetation, by as little as a shadow, a twitch of an ear, or a few dappled spots on their beautiful fur.  A minute or two passes.  Suddenly a spectacular cat emerges from the shadows and starts to patrol the riverbank on its morning hunt.  Caiman and capybara scatter.  We follow along with the cat for two hours or more.  Thousands of images whirl through our cameras!

Our Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal photo safari has quickly become the tour I currently enjoy the most!  These big cats are extremely exciting to photograph and the wealth of other wildlife found in this huge wetland provides endless opportunities to create great images.  A trip to the Pantanal is as close to photographing on an African safari as you can get in the Americas—exciting, enjoyable, and highly productive photographically.
This year we operated seven trips to the Pantanal during July, August and September—and I led three of them.  During my tours, every time we went out to look for Jaguars, we found them.  It was a new record for us!  Each of our tours offered 10 boat rides on the Cuiabá River to search for jaguars, and on every one of those boat rides we saw from one to seven jaguars!  On one trip, on the first day of the tour, we even came across a jaguar on an oxbow lake—miles from where we were expecting to find one!
Every one of these tours was very different from the next and every time we went out to photograph there was always a surprise in store.  Whether it was a jaguar with cubs, witnessing a kill, or shooting amazing birds—it was always with the possibility of finding a tapir, giant anteater, tamandua, coati, crab-eating fox or anaconda. To me, the Pantanal ranks among the world’s primo wildlife photography destinations.
My three groups were all congenial and affable, all keen and gung ho to be out in the field early and often, all ready to be where we enjoyed those beautiful sunrises and sunsets with lots of exciting wildlife photo ops sandwiched in between.  Personalities in the groups gelled quickly and our mealtimes were full of chatter as we talked about the day’s events.

Each of our tours is divided into shooting at three diverse locations with the highlight of each trip our five days of photographing wildlife from speedboats on the Cuiabá River.  Here, the jaguars are the obvious stars of the show.  But prior to our arrival at the river we spend two days shooting an array of wildlife at a private guest ranch mid-way down the Transpantaneira—the main road that bisects the northern Pantanal.  Then, after our jaguar shooting days, we head northward to another private ranch that is chock full of birds, a ranch that also features easily accessible crab-eating foxes, agoutis, huge tegu lizards—and, on my last trip, a very tame giant anteater.  We spend hours at birdfeeders I created that attract as many as a dozen photogenic toco toucans, plus chestnut-eared aracaris, crested oropendolas, purplish jays and a throng of great kiskadees.  There are so many great photo subjects here!  For me, an accessible and photogenic bat falcon nest in a hollow tree was a major highlight.
For this trip report I have separated the “slide shows” by each tour so you can see how photographically diverse these trips are from one another.  And as I was able to see many images our trip participants wanted to share, I was amazed at how varied our photography subjects were individually!  Wildlife wise, it is difficult to find any place more diverse—or any place more fun to shoot—than the Pantanal.
A word about Zika:
More than 50 photographers traveled to the Pantanal with us in 2016.  We were there at the height of the dry season when mosquito numbers are extremely low.  Zika is virtually unknown in the Pantanal due to the region’s very low human population density.  Brazil is larger than the contiguous United States and local people are as worried about contracting Zika from distant cities as people in South Dakota are worried about a Zika outbreak in Miami.  During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Zika cases among the thousands of international travelers were virtually nonexistent.

Click HERE for information on our 2017 Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil's Pantanal tours