By Steve Nelson
February 20, 2013
The largest and most beautiful big cat in The Americas is of course the jaguar. They used to roam all over the tropical areas of the two continents but are now mostly confined to the few remaining lowland wilderness areas, especially the Amazon and the Pantanal, both of which are mostly inside Brazil territory, and also the Brazilian Cerrado. There are rumours of jaguars surviving in remote areas of the Atlantic Rainforest of the Costa Verde, on the tropical paradise of Ilha Grande or the Laranjeiras Peninsula. The isolation of these areas makes it unlikely that a population could survive for very long in such a small habitat, but certainly not impossible. The Atlantic Rainforest watered by Iguazu Falls is certainly still home to at least one of them, who passes regularly at night through the grounds of the Hotel Das Cataratas in the Brazilian national park, according to the data from his radio collar. He has been seen in daylight too, crossing the park road between the patches of jungle. The Superagui National Park in Paran is a little-visited, surprisingly remote coastal area of mountains and mangroves, where our favourite cat still survives in reasonable numbers.
Areas such as these would require chance encounters, too close encounters perhaps – certainly too close in the case of someone known very well to Brazil Adventure Tours, who came across a jaguar while hunting alone in the forests around Jardim, heading towards the Bolivian border with Mato Grosso do Sul. Thankfully he was too scared to shoot it but sadly it had too good taste to eat him.
There are precious few jaguars remaining in Brazil and South America, so we need to help preserve the ones that survive in the wild, only 25,000 or so at recent estimates. The best way to do this is to encourage people living in the remaining jaguar hotspots, such as the Pantanal and Amazon, that they can benefit more from a live jaguar than a dead one, and that ecotourism can last a jaguar lifetime while hunting tourism can last a quick shot. So in this case, jaguar hunting means jaguar spotting, or at least it had better do… Besides, jaguar spotting sounds more like you want to paint the poor creature.
As humans and their farming and logging have encroached into and destroyed much of the habitat of the big cats in Brazil, the best chance to see a jaguar comes in the two great remaining wilderness areas – The Amazon Jungle and The Pantanal Wetlands. The Amazon being a largely impenetrable jungle makes it difficult to spot wildlife further than two trees away. Jaguars are also intelligent elusive, solitary predators, so remaining hidden is in their nature. It is very difficult to spot a wild jaguar in the Amazon, although it can happen.
The wetlands and savannah of the Pantanal give far more open vistas. In the wet season of December to April, the higher waters mean that all fauna (and a billion mosquitoes) concentrate on the islands of land high enough to remain above the water level, meaning that locating the wildlife is far easier, and if you know where prey such as the capybara hang out then you have far more chance of seeing a jaguar, and also the other big cats such as the puma and ocelot. Both these creatures and many more are helped by any jaguar conservation projects, as they don’t infringe on the jaguars habitat and alimentation. The jaguar is known as an ‘umbrella species’ in that its survival ensures the survival of many more below the apex of the jaguar in the food chain.
Around 30 years ago Pantanal ranchers began to realise, with a little encouragement from wildlife groups of course, that visitors wanted to see such creatures in the wild and not shoot them, and their farming methods adapted to protect the habitat in conjunction with the farming (leaving termite mounds standing in the fields for giant anteaters is one example). Not shooting them was obviously the biggest help. Naturalists and wildlife specialists also began to open lodges to run alongside their research programmes and preservation projects. The behaviour of the pantaneiro jaguar in his natural habitat is now more understood, and this can help raise the chances of seeing them, even in such huge territory.
The odds of the jaguar thriving in the Pantanal are now far higher with so many people now depending on them for a living, and also having been educated into protecting them and all the other beautiful creatures that make their home in the wetlands, which certainly wasn’t the case even 15-20 years ago. Your Jaguar Hunt in Brazil can also help to encourage the protection of the species, and all the others that may not even realise that they are sheltering under a jaguar umbrella.
You may still have to journey for your sighting though. Jaguars can be seen on the peripheries of the wetlands, in the channels, on the muddy banks, or even swimming if you are very lucky. To improve your chances though you need to stay at one of the specialised lodges further inside the Pantanal. The Southern Pantanal close to Campo Grande does have plenty of options, but the Northern Pantanal around Cuiaba has better access to more remote areas. Porto Jofre in particular has been a region for jaguar to hang out in reasonable numbers, upstream from the town on the Rio Piquiri. All journeys are done by boat, so trips are seasonal, and specialist jaguar-watching expeditions mean staying in boats or simple accommodation right in the heart of Jaguar Country, with possibilities for close encounters day and night.
The chances of seeing a jaguar in Brazil may be slim these days but if you are willing to invest time and effort to make it possible, then you can take it from us that any sighting of this rare and beautiful creature will be one of your most special moments in Brazil.
Activity Information: A trip to the Pantanal can be as short or as long as you like. The best chance to see a jaguar comes with expert guides on a properly organised trip, visiting the areas where jaguars are known to frequent.
You can visit Steve’s blog at Great Things To Do In Brazil: The Anhumas Abyss
Great Things To Do In Brazil: Kayaking the Costa Verde
Great Things To Do In Brazil: Favela Tour
Around Brazil: Tandem Hang-Gliding in Rio de Janeiro
Around Brazil: The Rio de Janeiro Marathon
Around Brazil: The Rio de Janeiro Marathon
Around Brazil: Lapa, Rio de Janeiro