THE PANTANAL – BRAZIL’S ANSWER TO THE OKAVANGO SWAMPS
I know this sounds like heresy but some birding trips can be a real pain – especially the ones that spend a lot of time in tropical rain forest and jungle regions like the Amazon.
So – yes – there are hundreds of new species to be added to your life list but the main drawbacks are the unpleasant conditions – constant heat, high humidity and a lot of rain – and the fact that most of the birds are usually in the canopy 50 metres or so above your head which makes them difficult to see and just about impossible to photograph.
And then there’s the bugs. I thought Africa was bad for bugs but after my initial – and only – trip into the Peruvian Amazon in 2012 I returned vowing never to complain about Africa’s bugs again. Trust me, it’s bad. I will take tsetse fly over chiggers any day. I have not returned to the Amazon and have no intention of doing so.
So the Pantanal held several obvious attractions. It hosts many of the iconic Amazon bird species but it’s not jungle – it’s a huge swamp traversed by numerous rivers and channels with savanna style vegetation on the islands. So you can see the birds in the open which means you can photograph them.
The trip I went on – Naturetrek’s Just Jaguars – promised great sightings of jaguar but I took that claim with a pinch of salt. I expected the jaguars in the Pantanal to be a lot like the leopards in South Africa’s Kruger National Park – difficult to see unless you got really lucky.
So my expectations were I would hopefully see a jaguar and, with a bit of luck, get a record shot or two of one. I am very pleased to say that I was totally wrong and this was one of the best wildlife trips I have ever done.
Bottom-line reason is that the jaguars prey mainly on capybaras and caimans. Both of those hang out on the river banks so that’s where the jaguars are and they are readily visible from boats.
In the heart of the Pantanal all ecotourism activities are done by boat and the jaguars have clearly become habituated to the boats and basically ignore them. That creates astounding opportunities to get “up close and personal” with the jaguars.
If there’s a drawback it’s the number of boats. Closest comparison would be with the safari vehicles in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater – which create an instant traffic jam crowding in around big game sightings – only there’s less space on the waterways.
Bugs?..I hear you ask. I went in September and there were none apart from a lot of horseflies along the shorelines. If you wore long-sleeve shirts and long trousers they were not a problem but many of the tour participants seemed hell-bent on wearing shorts so they paid the price in their blood!
I think that had something to do with that strange phenomenon called the sun which the Pantanal has in abundance as does Africa. We, who live in Africa, take it for granted but northern Europeans simply don’t see the sun that often and seem to go a bit moggy when they get into situations where there is plenty of sunshine.