The Pantanal is one of the world’s largest tropical wetland areas, and lies mostly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, but extends into Mato Grosso and portions of Bolivia and Paraguay. The official language of Brazil is Portuguese and the term Pantanal comes from the Portuguese word Pantano, meaning wetland.
As a keen wildlife enthusiast and photographer, I have taken images of most of the big cats in the wild. The Jaguar also belongs to the cat family and is considered an endangered animal. It is the third largest cat after the Tiger and the Lion, and is found in the Western Hemisphere. I have been searching the internet for the last two years for the places and the best period to see this animal in the wild. Finally, I found that the Taiama Ecological Reserve (TER), bordering the Paraguay River in Pantanal, Brazil, is one of the best locations to spot this animal. The ideal time to visit this area is in the dry season months starting from July to October when the animals come to the river banks and spend time especially in the mornings and in the late afternoons looking for food such as Capybara, Deer, Wild Pigs and fish.
The trip was planned from the 15th August 2010 for seven nights and to stay in a houseboat on the River Paraguay, boarding at Caceres which is 230 km from the domestic airport Cuiaba in Pantanal. The houseboat can accommodate eight persons and has four guest rooms. I booked the boat exclusively for me and three of my very good friends; Dr Mani, the Sri Lankan scientist/inventor living in the USA, Anton, a Sri Lankan Cardiologist now based in the UK and Rienzie, the Sri Lankan who owns a catering business. We arrived at Cuiaba Airport by 12 noon on the 15th August and were transported to Caceres by mini-bus which took almost three hours with just the one stop for refreshments. We were greeted at the houseboat by our tour organizer Carlos and the Captain of the boat. Within a few minutes of our arrival the boat engine started and moved upstream of the Paraguay River where the Taiama ER is located, approximately 150 km from Caceres. I got my cameras ready and went to the upper deck of the boat where one could get a fantastic panoramic view of the river and the wetland, spot birds of Pantanal along the river and see the sunset. The boat cruised along till late evening and stopped nearly at the half way mark to Taiama ER since the water in the river in certain areas are shallow and sometimes hinders the boat’s movement.
The following morning while we were having an early breakfast made by the chef of the boat, we heard the voice of Carlos, “come, come, get-into smaller motorized boats, fast, River Otters!!” We rushed out with our cameras, boarded into two smaller boats where passengers are limited to three in each and moved very fast to the area where otters had been spotted. The Giant River Otters move very fast in the water. It was an unusual experience for all of us especially the way boats steered swiftly to spot the agile Otters and taking pictures from a moving boat. There were two of them. After breakfast while the houseboat was moving upstream, we got into two smaller motorized boats in search of animals and birds that are frequently seen on the River Paraguay as well as on small channels and branches of the river. Carlos said that sometimes if you are lucky the Jaguar can be spotted. We were able to see many Capybara (a favorite food of the Jaguar), Caiman and many bird species including Amazon and Ringed Kingfisher, Toco Toucan, Crested Caracara, Tiger-Heron, Green Ibis, Jabiru Stork, Southern Screamer, Hyacinth Macaw, Black-Hawk Eagle etc.
We were back at the main boat for lunch and the boat was nearing Taiama ER. By 2 pm the boat came to a stop and was anchored to the side of the river bank and Carlos said we are very close to the Jaguar reserve. The houseboats are not allowed to enter the waters of the Taiama ER which is an island having a perimeter of almost 70 km. We got into the two smaller boats by 3.30 pm and steered towards the Jaguar reserve. I was travelling with our tour guide and my three friends were in the other boat. The time was 5.30 pm and we had travelled almost two hours to the other end of the reserve but with no sighting of the Jaguar. Dr Mani from the other boat said to me that it would be very difficult to see the animal since we had to cover a very large extent by boat. We steered the boats back in the same direction we came and within 15 minutes our guide Carlos with much excitement shouted “there, there Jaguar!” whilst pointing towards an area where there was white sand on the river bank almost 400 meters from the boat. I was excited and thrilled to see the KING of the PANTANAL lying down on the river bank looking with intent at two Capybaras on the same side approximately 50 meters away from the Jaguar, getting ready to drink water. My Nikon Camera (D3X) with 300mm, 2.8 lens, focused on the Jaguar and was capturing the Jaguar moving slowly towards its prey. The boat also steered towards the Jaguar without disturbing the animal. We expected the Jaguar to kill its prey but it gave up the hunt and disappeared into the bushes. We headed back to the houseboat by 7.45 pm, all smiles after a triumphant boat trip.
The Jaguar and Leopard look almost similar in appearance but the difference is that the spots on the skin of the jaguar have a different shape when compared with those of the Leopard. Jaguar is also slightly bigger in size and is known as the fiercest of the cat family. Unlike the Leopard, the Jaguar likes to swim and is a good hunter in the water especially for fish and Capybara.
On the second morning of our tour, we entered the Taiama ER around 8.30 am and boated for almost two hours without any sighting of Jaguar. It was getting warmer and uncomfortable being seated in one position. Visitors are prohibited from stopping and getting down on the land of the reserve. By now I had given up hope of seeing the Jaguar again. Suddenly, Carlos shouted “Jaguar in water!” By then, the animal seeing our two boats had jumped on to land. Later we were able to spot the animal on the river bank through the foliage. Lighting was good for pictures. A few minutes later on the same route the driver of the other boat had spotted another Jaguar lying inside closer to the river bank. We were back at the houseboat by 1pm and had lunch prepared by our friend Rienzie. Having seen three Jaguars on two trips and since our Mani and Anton had joined us only for four nights, we decided to go back to Caceres which would take almost a full day. The boat was stopped half way for the night and on the third day of our tour we had kiribath (cooked rice in coconut milk) for breakfast, thanks to Rienzie. While the houseboat was moving downstream we got into the two smaller boats and moved towards smaller streams connected to the Paraguay River for sighting Jaguar or even Pantanal birds. Although we did not see the Jaguar this time around, the great experience of seeing the unspoilt wetland of Pantanal and the sighting of many species of birds is unforgettable. We went back to the houseboat for lunch where Brazilian BBQ was served. By the late evening we were close to Caceres.
On the fourth day of our tour we waited till our two friends from USA and UK departed and went back to Taiama ER in a high speed boat which took almost three hours. It was almost noon when suddenly our boat driver turned back the boat and steered slowly looking at the high grassland on the river bank and whispering “Jaguar”. It took a few seconds for us to spot the animal. We spent almost 30 minutes taking good pictures before the animal moved away from our sight. Later we stopped under the shade of a tree and had a packed lunch on the boat. Without success in the afternoon in sighting Jaguar, we returned to the houseboat in the late evening. We had spent almost 12 hours in the speed boat during the day. Having seen four Jaguars from water I discussed with our tour guide about moving to the land for the next two nights and travelling by road to Port Jofre where other Pantanal animals could be seen, and if lucky to see Jaguar on land.
The following morning, as planned, we left to Port Jofre via Cuiaba. It took almost three hours to reach Cuiaba and a further two hours to get into the famous Transpantaneira Road (a gravel road), which leads to Port Jofue. The drive on this road was interesting where we saw many bird species, we had not seen before. We arrived at the lodge reserved for us for the night by 4 pm and decided to go for a night drive. During the night drive we were lucky to spot the Giant Anteater and the Crab Eating Fox.
On the 6th day morning, in a few minutes we arrived at Port Jofre facing Cuiaba River. A small motorized boat was hired and we spent nearly three hours on it but saw nothing worthy of record. After having lunch at Port Jofre we arrived in Cuiaba in the late evening. The next morning we flew into Iguazu which is world famous for its waterfall. Having spent two nights in Iguazu we returned to Sri Lanka on the 25th of August.
If you have plans to see the Jaguar in the wild, the Paraguay River in Pantanal, Brazil is one of your best options.