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In the Heart of the Pantanal, BR


August 5th, 2019

We arose early Monday morning at our wild camp to begin the drive along the Transpanteira hoping to spot game after dawn but it was not to be that day although we saw many birds, some caiman and a deer:

blue heron
wood stork
red brocket deer

We arrived at Jaguar Ecological Reserve to camp and arrange the boat tour for tomorrow.

This lodge came well recommended both online and in iOverlander and it saves us the extra 40 km of dirt road down to Porto Jofre – the place on the river where the boats begin the safaris – there is no town here; just a camp ground, a hotel and boat launches.

This Reserve is a lodge where you can stay in cabins or camp in your own vehicle (free if you’ve booked a tour).  It offers bathrooms, WiFi and electricity – no showers for campers.

There was a French family already camped here – they had done the tour the day before and loved it and there were a few people staying in the cabins in the lodge itself.  Many more arrived later.

The super exciting thing about this lodge is that they have about fifteen resident hyacinth macaws!  A rare bird species.

Hyacinth macaws are one of the largest species of parrot. They are beautiful, smart, and can even mimic human speech. They have a blue body of feathers, a solid black beak, and yellow circling their eyes and lower part of their beak. They nest in pre-existing holes in trees with a clutch of two to three eggs.

They are sometimes seen in flocks. It is common for them to spend some time around others for socializing though and then they will fly off to be alone for a while. They can be very aggressive in the wild as well as when they are pets.

We met a nice young British couple staying at the lodge, Rosie and Ben, and a young Dutch couple, sleeping in their rental car (backpackers), and a few of the guiding staff, Rodrigo and O’Neill, the owner’s son, Juan Paolo, as well as the owner, Eduardo.  We had a chill afternoon with the huge highlight being that the rare hyacinth macaw!

Tuesday morning we were up at six to partake of the buffet breakfast (only Fran did) and then on the road about 7:15 in their safari vehicle to do the 40 km / 25 mi  drive down to Porto Jofre where the docks are for the boat trips.

It was a dusty drive but we did see a water buffalo, birds and a lot of cows enroute.

We had been told it was an hour’s drive but it really took more like one hour forty minutes so instead of getting off on the boats before nine, by the time we were ready and all in the two boats (eight of us with two guides), it was about 9:15.  A little disappointing start to the day was that not only we were a little behind schedule, we did not get Eduardo the owner of the lodge (whom we’d heard so many good things about) as our guide.  Not that Rodrigo and O’Neill, were bad guides, but just not whom we would have chosen.  Eduardo had been booked for two straight days with a different English couple who had giant cameras and wanted “lots of action shots”.

We spent until 3:15 on the water (we had been told others had seven hours on the water so another bummer) and it was a mostly all excellent.  We did have two times when the other boat broken down, the other four people had to get on our boat (there was plenty of room) and that in total wasted nearly an hour’s safari time.  We fortunately did not have to go back to the docks for lunch as most safari tours do; we just stopped on a bank in the shade and were given a hot lunch.

The thing we (like others who come here) wanted to see most on this safari was jaguars – that largest species in the world live here.  Our second hope was giant river otters with anacondas a close third.

The jaguar is a large feline and the only member of the genus Panthera native to the Americas . The jaguar’s present range extends from southwestern US & Mexico in North America, across much of Central America, and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina in South America. Though there are single cats now living within the Western United States, the species has largely been extinct  from the US since the early 20th century. It is listed as near threatened and its numbers are declining.

Overall, the jaguar is the largest native cat species of the New World and the third largest in the world.  This spotted cat closely resembles the leopard, but is usually larger and sturdier. It ranges across a variety of forested and open terrains, but its preferred  habitat is tropical with swamps and wooded regions.  The jaguar enjoys swimming and is largely a solitary, opportunistic, stalk-and-ambush predator at the top of the food chain.

Given its historical distribution, the jaguar has featured prominently in the mythology of numerous indigenous American cultures, including those of the Maya and Aztec.  

Well, we saw FOUR different jaguars; first a pair:

Then a solitary male wandering the shoreline in the bush:

Then another male how followed the shoreline and then came out and sat on a sandbank posing for us!

We saw many banks with anaconda “holes/nests” in them but they did not show themselves.

About fifteen minutes before the end of the ride, we came upon the den of an otter family and watched them for about five minutes.  They had young ones and none of them were very happy we were watching them as they had young ones.  So we didn’t stay long.  (hence no really good pics)

The giant river otter is a South American carnivorous mammal. It is the longest member of the weasel family, a globally successful group of predators, reaching up to 1.7 metres (5.6 ft). It is a social species, with family groups typically supporting three to eight members. The groups are centered on a dominant breeding pair and are extremely cohesive and cooperative. Although generally peaceful, the species is territorial, and aggression has been observed between groups. The giant otter is diurnal, which means being active exclusively during daylight hours. It is the noisiest of the otter species, and distinct vocalizations have been documented that indicate alarm, aggression and reassurance.

The giant otter ranges across north-central South America; it lives mostly in and along the Amazon River and in the Pantanal.

The giant otter shows a variety of adaptations suitable to an amphibious lifestyle, including exceptionally dense fur, a wing-like tail, and webbed feet. The species prefers freshwater rivers and streams, which are usually seasonally flooded, and may also take to freshwater lakes and springs. It constructs extensive campsites close to feeding areas, clearing large amounts of vegetation. The giant otter subsists almost exclusively on a diet of fish but may also eat crabs, turtles, snacks and baby caiman. It has no serious natural predators other than humans, although it must compete with other species, including the caiman for food resources.

(these pics thanks to Google!)

We of course saw plenty of water birds:

this cormorant caught a piranha
we think it’s a green heron
a cormorant drying its wings
a caracara with a fish in its mouth
another majestic blue heron


they have webbed feet

The capybara is a mammal native to South America. It is the largest living rodent in the world. Its close relative is the guinea pigs and it is more distantly related to the agouti and the chinchilla. The capybara inhabits savannas, and dense forests and lives near bodies of water. It is a highly social species and can be found in groups as large as 100 individuals, but usually lives in groups of 10–20 individuals. The capybara is not a threatened species but it is hunted for its meat and hide and also for grease from its thick fatty skin, which is used in the pharmaceutical trade.

And hundreds of caiman:

caiman is a crocodilian alligatoroid – this group has two lineages: caiman and alligators.  They inhabit Mexico, Central and northern South America living in marshes and swamps or mangrove rivers and lakes. Caimans have scaly skin, and live a fairly nocturnal existence.

The caiman in the Pantanal are relatively small-sized crocodilians, with an average length of about 2 to 2.5 m (6.6 to 8.2 ft) long.

The conditions were great; hot but not stifling, sunny with a few clouds and being on a boat meant lots of opportunity for a breeze.

Then it was the drive back to the lodge along the dusty road but we saw two different deer, jabiru storks, capybaras and three water buffalo.  Water buffalo were brought to this area to graze with the cattle as jaguars will not attack them so the ranches felt there cattle would be safer.  However, some found a way out of the fenced areas and roam free.  (these look purple as it was dusk and the lighting makes them look that way)

Upon arriving back at the lodge, we checked with Eduardo about the possibility of showers and he checked with reception to see if there was a empty cabin we could use the bathroom in.  Lucky for us there was one of the 12 unoccupied and we were able to have a great hot, hot showers which was so nice after all the dust.

On the drive back, O’Neill had invited us to join four others after dark in the little screen hut to hopefully watch some ocelots come to feed.  The Lodge puts out a small amount of meat at a tree with a light set up shining on it.  It’s just enough food to entice the cats but no where near enough to keep them dependent on it as a food source.

He set up a car battery with a light, got us settled in the screen hut and placed the meat in the tree.

He left and we waited less then ten minutes and along came an ocelot!

We watched him approach cautiously and then he made his way up the tree.

What a nice ending to a game viewing day.