While the Amazon Rainforest may have all of the notoriety, it is actually Brazil’s Pantanal region that just might be one of the best places in the world to see animals in their natural habitats.
Jaguars are prevalent here and have become a major lure for wildlife photographers from all over the world. The magnificence and mystery of these big cats are certainly the main draw, yet there is so much more to this region that has been called “Brazil’s Best Kept Secret,’ by National Geographic.
The Pantanal – which is ten times the size of the Florida Everglades – is located in south-central Brazil, and is one of the world’s largest inland concentrations of waterbirds, home to about 656 bird species alongside 3,500 plant species, 325 fish species, 159 mammals, 53 amphibian and 98 reptiles.
The word ‘Pantanal’ translates in Portuguese (the language spoken in Brazil) to “wetland, bog, swamp or marsh” a perfect description for the seasonally flooded wetland that covers over 80,000 square miles. During each ‘wet’ season, waters from the neighboring central plateau fill the river systems of the Pantanal. The Cuiaba, Paraguay, Piquiri and Taquari rivers and their tributaries spill over their banks and flood the region. These floodwaters bring with them important nutrients as well as lots and lots of fish.
While the area is flooded, waterbirds will disperse to find food. Yet, when these floodwaters recede, lagoons shrink and become isolated as small ponds. This creates rich concentrated locales for birds and other wildlife to focus their efforts on. Swamps are full of waterfowl like egret, cormorant, spoonbill, stork, five kinds of kingfisher, as well as the famous Jabiru, which has become one of the unofficial mascots of the region.
And it’s not just water birds. These swamps are a draw for some of South America’s largest land animals, including Jacaré Caiman, Capybara, Yellow Anaconda, and Marsh Deer. Brazilian Tapir, peccary and Giant Otter can be encountered here, also.
The landscape here is beautiful, and perhaps a bit unexpected for visitors who are new to the Pantanal. Picture a sprawling wide-open ranchland, of sorts. But it is more than that. Within this seemingly simple landscape are four separate habitats: seasonal grasslands, marshes, forested highlands, and forests. The intertwining of these habitats is what creates the rich biodiversity here in Brazil’s Pantanal. Let’s take a look at each.
Grasslands extend for as far as the eye can see here in the Pantanal. These areas change during the year as they alternate between dry grassy fields and vast areas that are flooded. As these areas dry, they become feeding grounds for seed eaters. Jabiru, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Storks and more will gather at the shrinking swamps and pools that now contain abundant, and stranded, fish.
Marshes, unlike seasonal grasslands, are year-round water sources. These sources are important homes for a number of the Pantanal bird species, some of who only live near permanent water sources. Some birds and other animals will move between marshes and seasonally flooded areas. The important thing to note about marshes, however, is that these areas of year-round water are that they are a year-round mainstay for the Pantanal’s waterbird abundance.
These small areas of forest are always elevated above the water. These groves, which are spotted across the landscape and feature the manduvi tree as well as palms. This is an important nesting area for Jabiru, as well as the Hyacinth Macaw, which is the famous blue parrot. During the floods, these areas offer dry land for mammals such as the Giant Anteater, Marsh Deer, and armadillos. Palm trees provide food for monkeys, agoutis, and squirrels.
Gallery forests are found along rivers and play an important role in impeding erosion as tree roots hold the soil against water. Breeding colonies of storks, herons, cormorants, and other water birds are sometimes found in riverside trees. Giant Otters can be numerous along rivers. Certain monkeys are also restricted to these forests, with Black-and-gold Howler Monkeys being most common.
Higher ground dry forests, which are located above the flood levels, provide a home and hunting grounds for jaguars. Jaguars are often found maneuvering through these forests, alongside the riverbanks, hunting for capybara and caiman, or simply sunning themselves.
The Pantanal region is a wondrous place filled with wildlife and is a paradise for birders and wildlife photographers alike. While jaguars are the main draw here, for good reason, there is so much more to love, and to enjoy, while visiting. Backcountry Journeys photo tour, Jaguars of Brazil’s Pantanal, will provide, over the course of thirteen days, plenty of time to see and photograph all of it! Monkeys, caiman, capybara, stork, Marsh deer, Giant Anteater, peccary, Hyacinth Macaw, toucan, coati, aracari, parakeet, owl, Potoo, hawk, kite, kingfisher, Rhea, Giant Otter, Yellow Anaconda are just a few of the critters we’ll be checking off of our list while in Brazil’s Pantanal.
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Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and has had several of his writings and photographs published in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.