Wildlife Adventure in Northern Pantanal with Zegrahm Expeditions
Pantanal – right in the centre of South America – is one of the most exciting and pristine ecosystems in the world. An immense tropical wetlands located mainly in western Brazil’s state of Mato Grosso, spilling over into Paraguay and Bolivia, it covers more than 70,000 square miles. Back in October, I spent 16 days on an exhilarating wildlife adventure with Zegrahm Expeditions. On our comprehensive itinerary, we explored both Northern and Southern Pantanal. We went at the end of the dry season, when the scorching temperatures have slightly subsided but water is still scarce making the wildlife congregate in full view at available sources.With its vast open marshlands which allows you to see as far as your eyesight can reach, Pantanal is the best place in South America – and one of the best places in the world – to see wildlife. However its glory is overshadowed by the fame of the Amazon region to the north, where wildlife viewing is in fact more difficult, the dense foliage of the jungle obscuring the view.Pantanal boasts one of the greatest biodiversities in the world: it is home to more than 80 species of mammals, almost 700 species of birds and 50 species of reptiles. As a child, I remember reading up about many of the animals in my wildlife encyclopedias that I finally came across here: armadillos, anteaters, emus, jaguars and even somewhat mythical anacondas! Life in the Pantanal’s ecosystem is largely affected by the ebb and flow of seasons. Each summer, torrential rains fill the Pantanal’s giant basin to the brim, creating immense spectacular flooded landscapes. As the downpours subside giving way to escalating heat, the water slowly drains into the Paraguay river, leaving behind fish-filled pools attracting large flocks of birds and an assortment of other lively inhabitants: jaguars, capybaras, giant otters, tapirs and many more.The tropical heat in the region envelops me like a thick, suffocating blanket as soon as I step off the plane in Cuiaba, the capital city of Mato Grosso state. Pantanal’s climate – the combination of the scorching heat and high humidity – is very trying and not for the faint-hearted of travellers. With nighttime bringing the tiniest bit of relief, this was perhaps the hardest aspect of the trip. Pantanal is perhaps most famous as the best jaguar spotting destination in the world (you can read my comprehensive post about it here). Jaguars are a species almost threatened with extinction, however Pantanal boasts a healthy population of this fierce feline. The best place for jaguar sightings is Porto Jofre. The first part of my journey in Northern Pantanal with Zegrahm Expeditions consisted of three stops along the dusty Transpantaneira highway: three nights at Araras Eco Lodge, followed by two nights on the Pixaim River (at the Hotel Pantanal Mato Grosso), and finally a five-day sojourn in a famous fishing village of Porto Jofre searching for the elusive jaguar.
Some of our wildlife sightings in Northern Pantanal:
One of the many jaguars we spotted along river banks in Porto Jofre, basking in the sun. You can read my comprehensive post about Pantanal’s jaguars here. Hyacinth Macaw is the largest species of parrot in the world and often one of the most treasured experiences for any visitor to the Pantanal! The spectacular brilliant-blue hyacinth grows to be up to 1 metre (40 inches) long! Although critically endangered throughout most of their former range, hyacinth macaws are relatively plentiful within the Pantanal.
Tapirs look like pigs with trunks, but they are actually related to horses and rhinoceroses. This eclectic lineage is an ancient one—and so is the tapir itself. Scientists believe that these animals have changed little over tens of millions of years. Tapirs are at home in the water and are excellent swimmers who can even dive. They often submerge to cool off.
Capybaras are the largest rodent species the world, and they can weigh as much as a man! These oversized, pig-like animals (but slightly cuter!) are highly adapted to an aquatic lifestyle and even mate in the water. Capybaras are efficient grazers, they are able to crop even the short, dry grasses left at the end of the dry season. They are capable of a range of vocalisations and can purr and bark.Caymans lurk along the shallows of riverbanks submerging themselves except for beady eyes and the tip of the tail or warm themselves on sandy shores. Caymans are closely related to alligators and crocodiles, but they are typically smaller. This is probably a good thing considering they tend to be the most aggressive of the three!
Rivers in Pantanal swarm with South America’s most notorious fish, piranhas. Relative to its size – they are rather small for a fish – the piranha has one of the most powerful bites of any animal – exerting up to 30 times its bodyweight. Although not as dangerous as they are portrayed, under the right conditions, these carnivorous fish can live up to their voracious reputation.
Stayed tuned for the Southern Pantanal part of the journey with Zegrahm Expeditions…
Some more of my favourite shots from the trip: