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Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal
2022 Trip Report
Part One

Editor’s note: Mark Thomas clearly loves the Pantanal, its jaguars and wealth of other wildlife. I think he would live there if he could! This is a long trip report that we are breaking into two parts. It truly shows Mark’s enthusiasm as a trip leader there! If you read them both you will have a very good idea of what a Jaguars trip with us is like.

Having been away for two years due to COVID-19 restrictions, the one place I was most eager to return to was Brazil’s Pantanal. Over the years, I have come to know and recognize many of the jaguars that we see regularly. I was eager to see how many of them were still in the area and to discover entirely new jaguars.

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The Pantanal is a natural flood plain and the world’s largest tropical wetland area. It is located mostly within Brazil, but also extends into portions of Bolivia and Paraguay. It stretches over an area between 140,000 and 195,000 square kilometers. Within the Pantanal, as many as twelve subregional ecosystems exist, each with distinct hydrological, geological, and ecological characteristics. The Pantanal is home to 1000 bird species, 400 fish species, 300 mammalian species, 480 reptile species and over 9000 subspecies of invertebrates, providing nearly endless photo opportunities.

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We begin in the Mato Grosso city of Cuiabá. From there, we travel by comfortable, air-conditioned bus down the Transpantaneira, a 90-mile dirt road that crosses 122 bridges on its way to our riverside lodge at Porto Jofre. Clouds of great egrets, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, and other wading birds swarm overhead. We stop frequently to photograph this avian wonder along with the other denizens of this hyacinth-covered tapestry such as capybara, the world’s largest rodent and jacaré caiman, an alligator relative and a top predator in the Pantanal. Rufescent tiger herons, snowy egrets, wattled jacana and other smaller water birds strut in front of our cameras. Bridges, tree branches and reeds hold several species of kingfishers, all much more approachable than the belted kingfisher of the states. During our journey, it is not unusual to come across local caballeros—colorfully adorned cowboys on horseback leading their cattle down into the Pantanal to graze during the dry season. Come the rainy season, beginning in October, they will round up their herds and drive them north to higher ground outside the flood plain.

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At lunchtime we arrive at our first lodge. It is nestled along the shore of a large, winding oxbow lake where, shortly after lunch, we get our first opportunity to photograph from boats. But jaguars are not our quarry here. Instead, we hone our bird-in-flight photography skills as several hawks, herons and kingfishers compete for the fish our boatmen toss out to them. After dinner, we go over our images from the day to see what worked and what adjustments need to be made. The next day, we are out on the boats in the morning and again in the afternoon. We arrive back at the dock just in time to capture the magnificent orange sunset over the Pantanal.

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The next morning, we excitedly continue south on the Transpantaneira and deeper into the world’s largest flood plain until the road ends at the Cuiaba River. Our comfortable lodge lies along the elevated banks of this river. This first afternoon is our opportunity to photograph the unique scenery and wildlife on the lodge property itself. There is an inland lagoon alive with giant Victoria water lilies, whose pads easily span more than a meter across. Rufescent tiger herons stand motionless while waiting patiently to snatch a fish or frog from the edge of the giant lily pads. Wattled jacanas gingerly pluck aquatic vegetation up onto the pads searching for aquatic invertebrates. Kingfishers and kiskadees launch from the wooden boardwalk’s railing in search of fish and insects. While photographing from the boardwalk we keep a keen ear to the sky. We are listening for the raucous calls of the brilliant blue hyacinth macaws. The macaws regularly come here in the evening to feed on the palm nuts from the many low palm trees throughout the property. They are notoriously boisterous and are almost always heard before they are seen. It is easy to follow them when they fly as they squawk incessantly. But when it suddenly becomes quiet, you know that they are feeding. With a slow approach, it is possible to get within 20 feet of the large parrots and photograph them until the last of the daylight wanes.

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The dining room sports a large table covered with salad items and dressings. Plenty of hot food is available, buffet style. There is always freshly caught and cooked fish, chicken, and beef as well as rice, beans and pasta. The friendly waiters quickly learn our names and take our drink orders at the table. After dinner, Paulo, our local guide, and I lay out the plans for the exciting days ahead in front of a wall-sized map of the rivers we will be traveling on. It is tempting to stay up and talk all night about what we will be seeing over the next five days, but 5 A.M. comes early and we will soon be waking for our first of ten boat trips out onto the river.

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There is palpable excitement as everyone finds their way to breakfast in the early morning darkness. After a quick bite, everyone rushes to their assigned boats. There is plenty of room for gear as we only have three photographers on each boat. A hint of crimson accents the sky upriver where we will soon be exploring. Our departure is timed so that we are in prime jaguar territory as the sun begins to lift over the horizon. Every boat trip is different and exciting. You truly never know what you will see and when. This year, I led four tours into the jaguar’s home. All four tours were completely different. All of them were outstanding. This year, there were three different female jaguars, all familiar to me from prior years, each with two grown cubs each and another female with one half-grown cub. We would see one or more of these families nearly every day out on the river. Sometimes they would be hunting together along one of the rivers or tributaries and other times they might be hanging out in a tree overlooking the river. Mating jaguars were frequently sighted this year including some new jaguars that had never been seen in the area before. Jaguars hunting along the edge of the river was a common sight and several kills were witnessed and photographed.

Upcoming Related Tours

Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil's Pantanal

The world's premier wetland with photo access to stunning birds and mammals, with a focus on jaguars. Five full days are dedicated to jaguar photography from small boats—3 photographers per boat. Travel with a local photo guide who intimately knows the wildlife and natural history of the Pantanal.

Multiple Departure Dates 2025
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Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil's Pantanal

The world's premier wetland with photo access to stunning birds and mammals, with a focus on jaguars. Five full days are dedicated to jaguar photography from small boats—3 photographers per boat. Travel with a local photo guide who intimately knows the wildlife and natural history of the Pantanal.

Multiple Departure Dates 2024
More Information