October 2016 was a busy month for my camera equipment and me when I visited Brazil and Jamaica for wild life photography. It was on the 4th October, just pass midnight when Lilani and I landed in Cuiaba airport in the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil. We spent the night at a hotel near the airport. In the morning, we were ready by 8am to start our 12 day photo safari in search of one of the most amazing cats of the Pantanal, the Jaguar. One of my business associates, Chanaka Perera and his cousin Dilan, also joined us on this wild life expedition. They had come on their own on another flight to Cuiaba the previous day.
My tour guide Douglas, and his driver were at the hotel by 8.30am to pick us up and we headed in the direction of Caceres. After lunch in Caceres, it took a further two hours by road to reach our destination, for five nights at the lodge Balazinha facing the beautiful Paraguay River. Unlike safaris in most other parts of the planet, wild life expeditions in Pantanal are by speed boat on the Paraguay river. It is in the vicinity of the Talama Ecological Reserve.
At sunrise the following morning, we were on a boat with a 115 HP motor, reserved for us for the next five days, searching for Jaguars that come to the banks of the Paraguay River and its tributaries, looking for their favorite prey the Capybara (largest rodent in the world). During the dry months especially from August to October, resident animals spend most of their time close to water. Jaguars get into to water to cool their body or to target its prey including the Caiman (Crocodile) lying on the riverbanks apart from the Capybara.
We got lucky on our first trip when our boat driver spotted a male Jaguar inside the foliage on the riverbank while we had a brief glimpse of another Jaguar close to the male, probably a female. But later, both cats disappeared from our sight. We returned to the lodge for lunch. We were not successful in spotting Jaguar on that afternoon boat ride.
During the rest of our days in Balazinha, we spotted three more Jaguars when we had the time to take good pictures of the cat. On one occasion, a female Jaguar attempted to catch a Capybara on land but she gave up.
As per our tour itinerary, on the 10th October we arrived at Porto Jofre Hotel for lunch located in Porte Jofre facing the Cuiaba river, after an overnight stay at Pluval Lodge half way from the Balazinha Lodge. This segment of my expedition in search of Jaguars was for five nights. Porte Jofre is a more popular location for spotting Jaguars compared to the Paraguay River sites. Unlike at Balazinha, most of the boats here carry mobile radio equipment that can contact other boats when there is a Jaguar sighting.
At 3pm on the day of arrival, we were on a speedboat in search of Jaguars. As soon as we were on the move, a radio message came through of a Jaguar sighting. It took almost 20 to 30 minutes to reach the location where the Jaguar was spotted, while there were a few boats already at the location. Photography was not easy in this scenario as our boat was rocking around due to the boat traffic at the sighting.
During our stay at Porte Jofre, we saw nine Jaguars in total. Most of them were seen on the Cuiaba River and some were on the Three Brothers River and its branches. On one occasion, our guide spotted a Jaguar coming out of the water and for our luck she was with her two seven month old cubs. These two grown cubs were lying on the river bank. When the message went to other boats, within a few minutes the place was full of boats. This scene reminded me of the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka where a fleet of jeeps would converge on Leopard sighting. Compared to the Leopard, the Jaguar is stockier with a broader head while the tail of Jaguar is generally shorter than that of the Leopard. Both have their skin coats with rosette patterns while the Jaguar’s rosettes have spots inside them. Unlike the Jaguar, Leopard don’t like water.
In total I was able to photograph 13 Jaguars in the Jaguar Kingdom of Pantanal during this tour. Apart from the Jaguar sightings, I also photographed many bird species on this trip. I came across a Crane Hawk for the first time, on a tree trying to grab a prey from a cavity on the tree trunk, on the bank of the river Cuiaba.
On the 15th Lilani and I arrived in Sao Paulo and thereafter on the 17th we came to New York to get the visas needed to enter Jamaica, while our two friends left Pantanal a day before us to return to Sri Lanka.
On 23rd October 2016, I arrived in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica in search of the national bird of Jamaica, the Red Billed Streamer Tail. I was introduced to my bird guide Dr. Ann by a Taiwanese bird photographer, who I met in Porte Jofre. I was picked up from the airport and driven to a lodge in the hills of the Blue Mountain of Jamaica, where I spent three nights to photograph this beautiful bird together with other endemic birds of Jamaica.
During my visit to Blue Mountain, I managed to photograph 10 endemic birds and two more while in Kingston. I left to Negril by road on the 26th October to spend 5 nights at Sanders Resort in Montego Bay. Lilani arrived with my friends of more than 50 years who live in New Jersey, USA – Mahilal and his wife Ramani. Another close friend Anton and his wife Vasanthi, who I have known from my University days at Peradeniya, joined us from London where they live. By a strange coincidence our wedding anniversaries are on consecutive days, Mahilal’s 40th wedding anniversary was on the 27th, Anton’s 43rd anniversary was on the 28th and my 45th anniversary was on the 29th. Together we celebrated our wedding anniversaries while at the Sanders Resort and had a memorable time. We returned to Sri Lanka via New York on the 4th November after a very successful wild life tour to Brazil and Jamaica.