Jaguar, Pantanal Norte, Brazil (7/2019)
Jaguars are very difficult to see in most of their habitat throughout Central and South America. However in the dry season from July to October in the Northern Pantanal in Brazil it is very easy to see them since they patrol the banks of the Cuiaba river and its tributaries looking for abundant prey such as Caimans and Capybara. In July 2019, 10 year old Aditya and I visited the Pantanal while Gowri stayed home since her father could not travel. We took boat safaris from Pantanal Norte over two days and had 19 Jaguar sightings witnessing jaguars doing all sorts of things including hunting, swimming, roaring and resting! When we were flying out of Cuiaba we sat next to one of the main guides Miguel who had names for many of the common Jaguars in the area. Miguel had also setup the Ocelot blind at the Southwild lodge we visited and has worked with Harpy Eagle blinds too. When I showed him on our laptop he was able to identify a few of these amazing cats and the names given to them by the locals. First we saw Ryan and her cub resting on the bank during our 4 hour morning safari.
After the pair moved on, pretty quickly we saw a Jaguar swimming in the water, a sight we were really hoping to see. Turns out this is the Jaguar we saw multiple times on our four 4 hour safaris. We didn't realize it at the time but Miguel was able to identify this Jaguar as the famous Marley who is a large male known for dominating the core area in the Cuiaba river.
It was amazing to see how fast and elegantly Jaguars can swim and crossings of the river are fairly common but not that easy to see. We found out that Marley was limping slightly probably from fighting another male since it was mating season. For this reason, he may have opted to swim more than usual giving us good looks. He he was searchig the water hyacinth for prey. Later we saw Marley catch a Caiman with this technique! But here he just ended up looking silly and I named him Muddy Marley.
In our afternoon Safari we again ran into Marley as he was on beach patrol. In this photo you could really grasp how powerful he is as he kicked up sand and he purposely patroled his area.
As light faded and we were heading back to the lodge we ran into an unnamed Jagaur stalking a Capybara. It was actually quite a bit darker than seen in the photo since the photo was taken at ISO 3200. For about half an hour the Jaguar stealthily approached the Capybara. But once the Capybara caught wind of the Jaguar, it jumped in the river foiling the hunt. It was an amazing scene to witness. Also the Capybara is amazingly fast in the water and is a faster swimmer than a Jaguar. Hard to believe when you look at the sleek strong looking Jaguar and pudgy Capybara.
On the morning of our 2nd and last day in Jaguar country we saw 8 different Jaguars just during our morning safari. Our record for our guide Sergio was 10 and he had been guiding for 29 years! Not only did we see many Jaguars but we saw amazing behavior and scenery. The first good look we got was amazingly again Marley who we caught up with swimming again. We were only one of two boats in the area. Marley again made a quick jump into water hyacinth plants and this time killed a medium-sized Caiman in the process! It was an amazing thing to see. We had never seen a successful hunt of anything let alone a Jaguar and I was very pleased that I got a photo! We've seen lions and leopards with their kill but never saw the actual hunt. In this case Marley made it look easy compared to the protracted stalking and failed hunt from the previous evening. Mostly Marley showed his back to us but we did get this one look back while he hauled away his kill. It was good to see that even with his slight limp hunting was not a problem.
Next we saw what we thought was a mating pair of Jaguars but it turned out to be two brothers. The big one goes by the name of Kim and was the largest Jaguar we saw on the trip. Here he is posing majestically. The largest Jaguars in the world are here in the Pantanal since prey is abundant.
It was tough getting a picture of both brothers together but finally after about 30 minutes both came out for this beautiful sight.
Our boat driver also proved to be better than the average boat driver. In this case, when he saw one of the brothers moving off to the side, he predicted that he would head out over a branch that would make for a really nice shot. It turned out Aditya had the best lens to capture the Jaguar on the branch over the water. We were too close for my 150-600 mm lens. We were the only boat waiting when the Jaguar came out of the jungle. In general the boats in the Pantanal are really well behaved. The drivers all move in unison to get everyone a good shot. The visitors are quiet and we didn't see any trash anywhere. I wish all our safaris were this way.
After leaving the brothers we were incredibly satisfied with the looks we were getting. As we were heading back towards the lodge at high speed I spotted what appeared to be a Jaguar picturesquely posing on another branch with no boats there to see it. Both our driver and guide who were incredible spotters missed this. I pointed it out and we doubled back for what ended up being our closest and best looks of an unnamed female Jaguar. So the one time I managed to spot something before Aditya, the guide and driver paid off! This look was so close that even an Iphone could take a decent photo so I did take some video! Here is a photo of the female Jaguar staring us down as we approached.
Aditya got this amazing shot of her growling at us.
She soon relaxed and started yawning which also resulted in amazing photos of her fearsome teeth.
I never knew their tongue and teeth were so long. We had wanted to get nice shots of a Jaguar with its mouth open since we've seen many of these pictures. We had chances with Marley and Kim to see if they would yawn or growl but they never did. However, every female we ran into did yawn a lot. Sergio said this is common that females yawn a lot more. He wasn't sure why but maybe taking care of cubs is the explanation and something all mothers will understand!
We had this close encounter all to ourselves which made it even more special. Now very late for lunch we headed back to the lodge. But yet one more unnamed Jaguar was patrollling a beach making our count 8 just for the morning safari!
We got to see this impressive male jump in as he prepared for a river crossing.
With our last safari we needed just two jaguar sightings to break the single day record for our guide Sergio which stood at 10 Jaguars after guiding for 29 years. Aditya and I thought we would have a great chance. However, it became clear that Jaguar sightings are not as consistent as we thought. We only saw only one Jaguar on our last safari but saw many other amazing things such as giant otters feasting on fish they caught. Here is the last Jaguar we saw as this majestic male came in for a drink. For us, the Jaguar is the last of the big cats (Tiger, Lion, Leopard) to see in the wild and we've also seen Cheetah and Mountain Lion (not officially big cats by definition). I've been wanting to see them for decades. Seeing them in the Pantanal is amazing since in addition to seeing many, one can see their active behavior since they hunt during the day and with the abundant prey there is a decent chance you may see a hunt, a kill or some other interesting bit of behavior of these spectacular cats.