The Pantanal – Tropical Wetland
The Elusive and Mysterious Jaguar
The Jaguar once ranged from the jungles of South America up to the forests of the US. However today that range is severely restricted. One of the best places to see the Jaguar today is the Pantanal in Brazil. The wetlands of the Pantanal, a world heritage site, are home to some amazing wildlife viewing opportunities.
The region. mostly in Brazil but in Bolivia and Paraguay as well, spreads over an area of 150,000 to 200,000 sq km. This is ten times larger than the Okavango Delata wetland area, twice the size of Ireland. The Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland. The annual flooding prevents much human habitation or land use in the area and so it is home to an abundance of wildlife. The vitality of the ecosystem is what allows apex-predators like the jaguar to exist in relatively high numbers. Some estimates put the number of jaguars in the pantanal at double the density that they exist at elsewhere. This added to the more open landscape means that spotting jaguars is a little bit easier than in thick jungle like in Guyana.
The annual flooding of the Pantanal occurs in November through to March. During this period lots of the area is inaccessible and whole towns are cut off. However the rest of the year is kinder to wildlife enthusiasts. When the waters recede a bit boat trips are a wonderful way of seeing the animals that live along the rivers. Jaguars often patrol along the edges of the water sometimes even being brave enough to attack a small crocodile. Being on a boat is a great opportunity to see them without them seeing you as a threat. Of course the Pantanal is no different to any other wildlife viewing area. The waters edges are where the action occurs.
The Giants are not all Extinct
While the jaguar might be the biggest cat in the Americas it isn’t the only giant living in the Pantanal. Jaguars in this area tend to grow bigger than other jaguars because of an abundance of larger herbivore prey. However plenty other animals grow to a pretty large size as well.
On the river giant otters are often seen. Better known as Amazonian animals, the largest member of the otter family is found all over tropical South America. Social animals, they are often seen in groups, sometimes as many as eight together. Giant otters are active during the day so you have decent opportunities to see them. However given that a lot of the water in the Pantanal can be muddy one needs to see them while they are on the edges of rivers or flooded areas. However they do spend enough time out of the water to have a decent chance of seeing them.
The largest of the anteater family lives out on the plains where it has a mostly peaceful insectivorous life. It is however sometimes prey for the Jaguar. Not easy prey though because the claws it uses for digging ants and termites out of their nests are quite useful weapons. An anteater will normally run away but when stuck will stand on its hind legs and can seem formidable due to its almost 2 m total length. Giant Anteaters are listed as vulnerable by the ICUN. Their main danger across their range is habitat destruction though poaching occurs as well. In the Pantanal they are lucky as the regular flooding prevents too much encroachment by humans into their range.
Another animal in the area who gets the title ‘largest in its family’ is the capybara. They are the largest rodents in the world. A relative of the guinea pig, the capybara is a herbivore eating mostly grasses and water plants. They are found throughout the wetland areas of South America and are a common sight to see on a tour of the pantanal. They might not have the allure of apex predators like the jaguar or the giant otter but are nonetheless an important member of the ecosystem.
As with any wetland area birding in the Pantanal is superb. With some 1000 species recorded there is a good chance you will be seeing plenty. However there are not that many that are endemic to the area. While viewing and numbers are extremely good uniqueness is sometimes lacking. However there are numerous species that are uncommon by virtue of the fact that they are threatened with extinction. The crowned eagle, agami heron and the hyacinth macaw are all vulnerable residents of the Pantanal. Back to the subject of giants the harpy eagle also makes its home in some areas of the pantanal.