Brazil is as large as Europe, so you travel quite some distances. From Mamiraua with a fast boat in 1,5 hour to Tefé, a two hour flight to Manaus and the next day a 5 hours flight to Cuiaba, Mato Grosso, with some stopovers. We had chosen two different lodges in the northern Pantanal, they say you see more wildlife in the northern Pantanal than in the southern Pantanal. The Pantanal is a immense wetland, almost 4 times as large as the Netherlands. At the end of the rainy season about 80% of the Pantanal is flooded. The Pantanal has the densest flora and fauna ecosystem of the world, but is often overshadowed by the Amazon Rainforest.
Our first destination was the Jaguar Ecological Reserve www.jaguarreserve.com. Here too we were picked up at the airport. The lodge is located a 5 hours drive from Cuiaba, the first hour you drive over paved road and at Poconé the Transpantaneira starts. This is a long and straight unpaved road that crosses a large part of the Pantanal. The Transpantaneira is the lifeline of the Pantanal, farmers use this road to get to their farms, far from civilization and for the wildlife the road is a great place to sunbathe, hunt, etc.
Just after a few meters at the Transpantaneira, we saw already our first animal, a large alligator lizard.
All along the way birds, birds and more birds, many heron species, jaribu, ibis, birds of prey, macaws, kingfishers, caracaras, southern screamers and much more. Various monkeys, caimans and lots capibaras, so we were stopping at every turn and taking pictures.
Sometimes you also see some special 'animals' crossing the road, a tiny catfish about 8 cm long, left the river at the right side of the road looking for a better place at the other side of the road. Zigzagging, swaying his tail, he tried to reach the other side. This was during evening excursion.
It was now (March) the end of the rainy season and the Pantanal had reached its highest water level, the water is 3 meters higher than in the dry season. Both sides of the Transpantaneira were completely flooded, when the water just would raise 10 cm more the Transpantaneira would be flooded at many places. During this period, many farmers, have brought their cattle to the edge of the Pantanal, where the land is a little higher, so the cattle does not have to stand in the water, but still we saw you here and there cattle standing in the water. Some farms are slightly higher, but most of the land is relatively flat.
Along the Transpantaneira you have many streams, dozens of times they cross the road and you have to drive over boards on a wooden bridge. This period is the low season, some lodges are hardly accessible due to the flooding and are closed. Fortunately, the two lodges that we had chosen, were open, both times we were the first couple of days the only guests. Because of the high water level we had no walks, paths were almost all flooded, so the most trips were on Transpantaneira and some side-tracks or by boat.
The Jaguar Ecological Reserve is known for her hyacinth macaws, they have a some trees where you almost always can see them. They love palm nuts, so this is their favorite tree. One tree stood next to our cabin and what can they scream! But the birds are so beautiful, beautiful bright blue with a yellow border around the eyes and partially a yellow beak. It is the largest parrot specie, it can grow up to 90-100 cm and weighs about 1.5 kg. However, it is an endangered macaw. Its main food are palm nuts. Many trees die in the burning of grasslands by farmers and by because of the huge prices asked for these birds, illegal trade flourishes. In years with little food, no young are reared.
I really would love to see a giant anteater. This is basically a nocturnal animal, but sometimes during the day they are also seen. Our guide told us that in the dry season you could see them quite often, but in the wet season is quite difficult. But the next day he told us that the last two days a giant anteater was spotted at the farm of his uncle, a little further away, both times at dawn. So at the end of the day, we walked 2 km on the Transpantaneiro, then a path, partly through the water to his uncles farm. Next to this path we saw some alligator lizards.
A alligator lizard can grow up to 1.2 m. It lives mainly on water snails and cracks the shell flat with his teeth and spits the large parts of the shell out. One of the alligator lizards that we saw, had just caught a snail, he was just sitting one meter away from us and was slowly destroying the shell of the snail and dropping pieces of the shell out of his mouth.
Unfortunately, we did not see an anteater neither the following afternoon. At our last evening on the way back of a night excursion we took another look in this area. This time by car and then we saw all of sudden a giant anteater. In the dark with a big light he was clearly visible, but to take pictures was quite difficult. We stopped the car and got out, but the anteater got scared of us and went of, instead of running away, he almost overrun Han. Then you see how big he really is.
The giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) has a long, narrow snout and a long tail. For not wearing out his sharp claws, he walks on his wrists with his sharp claws folded inside. An adult anteater weighs about 40 kg and is over 1 meter long, his tail adds about 90 cm more. So an anteater can measure over two meters from snout to tail tip. At his shoulders he is about 60 cm high.
An anteater has short ears, small eyes and a gray-brown fur of short, strong hairs. His head is lighter in color than his back. He has a wide black belt with a white stripe at his chest, shoulder and runs over to his waist. It gives a camouflage effect. The anteater feeds on ants and termites. He uses his sharp claws to tear ant nests or burrows open, after which he puts his snout inside. With his 60 cm long tongue he slurps the ants. Through his sticky saliva the ants easily stick. He puts out his tongue about 150 times a minute, so he can eat up to 30.000 ants a day. Anteaters have no teeth. However, his salivary glands are well developed. They chew their prey with hard parts of their palate. The anteater gets one young per litter. The mother carries her young on her back. The gestation period takes 190 days. Giant anteater can get 25 years old. When we got back in the car and we drove away we saw a second anteater. During the dry season you can see them regularly during the day and then the females often have a young at their backs. So we still have to come back some day in September.
Also around the lodge there was enough to see, mainly birds, but also some monkeys, nosebears, deer, some lost capibaris and about 100 meters awayt at the bridge several caimen.
Around noon and at dinertime you always had some scavengers walking around to see if something of the goodies is left. A cara cara made it even so far, he landed just in front of us at the table and was looking at our plates. If you did not give him something, he just picked itself from our plates. The first time that he landed on our table, we got a little scared, it is a fairly large bird, especially if he spreads his wings, but than you only can smile and enjoy to see this gorgeous bird sitting in front of you.
Some other scavengers like tejus and foxes, were quite shy and were waiting at the border of the garden, waiting until you were finished, than they came carefully to the tables to see if they could find something at the ground.
Although we saw a lot, you see during the wet season less wildlife. But birds, capibaras, caimans, monkeys, etc. you always see plenty.
The capibaras had now young, very nice to see. You saw them everywhere along the Transpantaneiro at the edge of the water, often half on the road as they live in large family groups. Often they laid down at the road and not until our car got very close, just one-two meters away, they slowly stood up, staring at you, like do I really have to stand up in this heat? But if you got out of the car, they could stand up quiet fast and the whole family immediately plunged into the water.
The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is the largest rodent in the world, you find them in the watery areas of Brazil and northern Argentina. Adults can weigh 80 kg. The name ‘capybara’ comes from the Guarani language and means lord of the grass. This refers to the long shore vegetation of swamps, rivers and lakes, their natural habitat. Capybaras live in groups up to several dozen animals. They are excellent swimmers and divers, you almost always find them in and along the water. The capybara eats especially water plants and grass, but also barks of trees.
The Pantanal is a real paradise for birdwatchers, we are no birdwatchers but we enjoy to see all the birds of prey, owls, macaws and parakeets, heron species, kingfishers, caracaras, all the small colorful birds, the southern screamer etc. The southern screamer (Chauna torquata) you saw regularly at piles along the road. Beautiful birds, but if you see a couple together, they just scream at one other, truly deafening.
They occur in the wetlands of South America. Outside the breeding season they live in large colonies together, always in close proximity to water. They build bulky nests in shallow water or at water bans. Mostly they lay 5 eggs, which are incubated by both parents. The southern screamer feeds on weeds, roots and grains. Although their appearance does not suggest, they are excellent flyers. Adult screamers have a total length of 90 cm and usually weigh about 2,5 kg.
We had hoped to see an anaconda, but they rarely spotted. Of course we also hoped to see a jaguar, but you know in advance that it would be a lucky shot, if you see them. It was not the best time for seeing jaguars, but even in the right season is unlikely to see them.
Our second lodge, the Pantanal Wildlife Center www.pantanalwildlifecenter.com we had chosen because of the giant otters. Locals call the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) large water-dogs or river-wolves. The giant otter can reach a length of 1.5 to 1.8 meters, females remain slightly smaller and can weigh 22-34 kg. Otters live in fresh water in almost whole South America. Their food consists of various aquatic animals, especially fish and sometimes turtles, anacondas and other snakes. The giant otter lives generally in groups of 4 to 10 animals, usually consisting of a couple and their young of the last and penultimate litter. The bond between a couple is very strong, they rarely budge from each other side. The relationship between other group members is also strong: groups never divide, they hunt and travel together and usually also rest near each other. Giant otters of the same group are mostly found next to each other or almost always within sight or earshot of one another.
A female gets mostly two young a year, litters with more than three youngsters are very rare. The gestation period is between 52 and 70 days. Youngsters are mostly born at the beginning of the dry season. At birth a young weighs about 200 grams and is about 30 cm long. It is blind and hairy. The first 2-3 weeks the young remain in the den where they were born, unless their mom moves them to another den. After three weeks mom learns them to swim. They are 2-3 times a day submerged. After about 10 days lessons they can afloat. During their swim lessons they are still blind, after 28 to 30 days they open their eyes. If they are 6 weeks old, they leave regularly the den and play around at the entrance. After 3-4 months they eat their first solid food, first offered by the parents, but after about 2 weeks they can catch their own fish and start to participate at group activities, like hunting. They have then already 2/3 of their adult length, but still have a lighter colored fur. Youngsters are being watched all the time by the other group members. If a young is attacked, he is fiercely defended by their parents, who can even beat off jaguars. After 9 months they are weaned and will have their adult weight. Sometimes youngsters leave the territory temporarily as mom gets her next litter, to return after 6-8 weeks to help marking the territory. They leave the family group after about two years when they are sexually mature.
The giant otter is a noisy otter specie, the group members regularly communicate with each other and keep in touch with each other through sounds. Giant otters can get 12 years old. Giant otters have few natural enemies, giant otters live in groups are relatively safe. Giant otters that are killed by predation are mostly solitary or very young animals.
Near the Pantanal Wildlife Center lives since many years a giant otter family, you can admire them from close by. But now with the high water level you have no sand banks, large areas of forest are flooded, so the otters follow the fish into the forest. We have seen a few otters, but only from a certain distance and we just saw their heads out of the water. The Tapir Tower at this lodge, where you were supposed to see every night tapirs, stood now desolate in the water. But at our first lodge we were lucky to see a tapir suddenly cross the road, just in front of our car at a night excursion.
At the Pantanal Wildlife Center you had a nest with jaribus, large storks. You could climb up an unsteady watchtower and look into the nest. They soon would start laying eggs. A beautiful sight, these large birds in a huge nest, high up in a bare tree. From the watchtower you also had a nice view over the flooded fields and marshes.
Here we made some trips on horseback, as all roads were flooded. But it was hard for them, the water regularly came up to their belly, but we drove calmly at foot-pace. At one moment Han was stung by a wasp in his leg, he dropped his reins and took his leg for a moment of the bracket. At that time, his horse was also stung by a wasp and his horse run wild, although the water came to his belly, he still could run quite fast through the water. But soon he got exhausted and Han could take the reins again.
Here we had a house snake that regularly was sunbathing in front of some screen-doors, if you came too close, he climbed up through the door-handle. One of the screen-doors had a small crack, which he found quickly each time and then disappeared inside to climb a little later from the ceiling back out. The people at the lodge first wanted to scare him away, as most tourists do no like snakes, but we enjoyed it to him every time again.
Around the lodge so saw also several lizards and frogs.
This lodge was not reachable by car, due to the high water level, so we were picked up by boat at the Transpantaneira.