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We love travel, photography, and beautiful animals, so what could be better than a trip to the  Pantanal in Brazil, which is the largest wetlands area in the world. While Rainer took thousands of photographs, I concentrated primarily on getting video clips of the many bird and animal species that we encountered in our nearly two-week trip. While we were always thinking “jaguars,” we were very excited to see so many different birds and animals.

The Pantanal

The Pantanal is a huge wetlands region in western Brazil. We flew from Sao Paulo to Cuiaba and then drove south to Porto Jofre, a 5 hour bumpy ride, and then got on a small flat bottom boat to reach our destination.

Our journey began in Cuiabá, a city of about a million people that we flew into from Sao Paulo. After staying overnight there we drove about three hours to our first lodge, SouthWild Pantanal Lodge. The last two hours of the drive was on the Transpantaneira Road, a bumpy dirt road with lots of rickety wooden bridges. The first three videos were all taken while staying at SouthWild.

Meet Capybara

The first morning at our lodge we encountered an animal we had never seen nor heard of before: a capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), the world’s largest rodent! Often described as a beaver without a tail or a hairy pig without a snout, this rodent is found in South America anywhere there is standing water. Because it has such dry skin, it needs to be near water to be healthy. Its diet consists of grasses and water plants and they tend to eat around dawn or dusk. In addition to drinking water, “capys” use the water to hide from predators and can stay underwater for up to five minutes before surfacing. It was fun to see entire families of “capys” on the sand beaches.

Toco Toucans

Each morning one of the workers at Southwild would feed the birds right outside the lodge. All of the photographers would get up early to watch this bird-feeding extravaganza. While there were lots of smaller birds around, one of my favorites to watch were the toucans with short, compact bodies and large and colorful bills, which oftentimes measure more than half the length of the body. The large orange bill of the toucans we saw is a highly efficient thermoregulation system that also serves to intimidate smaller birds and permits the toucan to get into tree-holes that might contain food.

Jabiru Storks

The other bird we found at Southwild and also saw during the second half of the trip, was a jabiru stork which is the tallest flying bird in South America. Adults are 4 – 4 ½ feet long, 7.5–9.2 feet across the wings, and weigh between 9 and 20 pounds. At Southwild a spiral-staired viewing tower is located very near a jabiru nest, where Mom, Dad, and three young ones resided and gave us a perfect vantage point to take photos and videos. From the size and behaviors of the “chicks,” they appear to be just about ready to fledge. It’s hard to believe that the average lifespan of these storks is 36 years. We enjoyed climbing the tower to watch the jabirus as one parent would go out for food while the other would stay “home” and rearrange all of the sticks that comprised the nearly 3-foot wide by 5-foot deep nest.

Floating Hotel

After two days at Southwild Pantanal Lodge we left and drove another three hours along the Transpantaneira Road to Porto Joffre where we boarded transfer boats for the 30-minute ride to the SouthWild Flotel, our home for the next six nights. This interesting “floating hotel” provided us with easy access to our daily boat ventures to see the jaguars, birds, and other animals of the Pantanal.

From Port Jofre we took a small boat to our hotel known as the Jaguar Floating hotel or Flotel.

Giant River Otters

We saw quite a few giant river otters, a South American carnivorous mammal. These social animals can reach up to 5 ½ feet in length and typically stay in family groups of up to eight members. These mammals are territorial and are active during the daylight hours. They have dense fur, a wing-like tail, and their feet are webbed. Their diet consists mostly of fish although they also eat crabs, turtles, snakes, and small caiman. As you can see in the video, you wouldn’t want any part of your body to be in the way of their teeth! The otters love to fight and play with each other, making viewing a treat.

Crane Hawk

One of the most unique experiences we had while taking pictures, was coming across a crane hawk in the midst of stealing an unsuspecting victim from a tree cavity. While these hawks are often able to swoop down into a nest and steal its prey, we sat in our boat watching one reach up into a hole in a tree and steal its prey by using its double-jointed tarsal bones to keep digging into the cavity until it was able to grab a young bat. Watch carefully as the hawk works its claws up into the hole until he can get good enough leverage to pull the bat out. The actual extraction of the bat was faster than the eye could see; we had to view the video in slow motion to see exactly what the hawk pulled out. We assumed at first that it was a baby bird.

Hyacinth Macaws

The hyacinth macaw was one of the most beautiful birds we saw in the Pantanal. These striking royal blue birds are over 3 feet in length from the top of their head to the tip of their tail. It is the largest of all the macaws and the largest flying parrot. We enjoyed watching them pull nuts from the palms, cracking them open after pulling the kernels off the tree. Although we didn’t see this, the macaw beaks are strong enough to crack coconuts, brazil nut pods, and macadamia nuts.

Jaguars at Play

Why did we come to the Pantanal? To see the jaguars, of course! And oh how fortunate we were – during each of the six days that we went out jaguar hunting from the flotel, we were fortunate to have multiple sightings! I took hundreds of video clips, but am sharing just three short videos with you. The first video is “Jaguars at Play” – two females enjoying a bit of playful camaraderie.

Jaguar Morning Exericise

I had never given much thought to whether jaguars were totally “land-based” or whether they would venture into water. I quickly learned that these beautiful creatures go anywhere…in the woods, on the sandy beach, up in trees, and in the water. Our guides did a terrific job of finding them everywhere!

Jaguar Waiting Game

While we were fortunate to have so many jaguar sightings, it didn’t just happen “on demand!” We spent many, many hours going up and down the river looking for these elusive animals. Our group of 10 (plus our group leader and guide) were divided into two boats. Sometimes the two went out together, but other times we went in different directions, hoping that the “divide and conquer” approach would work better. In a manner similar to looking for animals on an African safari, once there was a sighting, word spread like wildfire and suddenly there were boats all over the place, each driver jockeying for a good position for their clients to take pictures from. And once you got into position, you might sit there for hours waiting for a sleeping jaguar to get up and do something, even if only to stand up, look around, yawn, and lay back down. Patience (and strong bladders) were essential. But in the end, it was all worth it. A fantastic trip with Daniel and Tanya Cox from Natural Exposures.