One of the most joyous wildlife encounters during a Brazil wildlife tour is to meet a foraging family of Giant River Otters on the river. These beautiful animals are superb swimmers and can avoid predators with their speed and agility. They can often turn defence into attack and push a caiman or snake from their territory, by constantly haranguing the unfortunate creature which gets too close to their heavily protected dens. It is often the case that you hear the Giant River Otters before you see them, and their distinctive high-pitched squeaks are one of the great sounds of a Pantanal jaguar safari.
Giant means up to two metres in length, which means they are twice the size of their North American Sea Otter ‘cousins’. They are the longest members of the Mustelidae, or weasel family and are atypical within this family branch by being very social in their lifestyle. Although generally peaceful animals, they are fiercely territorial and will chase other otters or predators such as Caiman out of their particular stretch of water. The Giant River Otters has a number of physical adaptions suited for its aquatic lifestyle. These included webbed feet, a wing like tail for propulsion and a dense fur coat for the ultimate water proofing.
Due to extensive poaching for their highly prized pelts the population and distribution of these beautiful otters has shrunk significantly; and they are now regarded as endangered, with estimates of a population of around 5000 individuals. In Brazil you are most likely to see them on a boat safari in the Amazon, or during a Jaguar safari in the Pantanal on major rivers such as the Rio Paraguay and the Rio Cuiaba.
For an animal so superbly adapted to life in the water, it will come as no surprise to learn that they can be seen in Brazil at any time of the year. If you were to visit the upper Amazon during the rainy season from November to April - where river levels can increase by more than 10 metres - you will still find the river wolves catching fish in the beautiful flooded forest, However, the dry season can be a lot more comfortable for human visitors and make conditions much easier to photograph. I remember in July being able to walk 200M from our Pantanal lodge and film a beautiful pair of giant river otters communicating in a relatively small body of water, just off from the Transpantaneira road
These charismatic mammals have a natural curiosity and exuberance which means they will often pop their heads up to observe the boat you are travelling in. It is at this point that you have a chance to see their ‘white’ throat markings – each one unique to the individual giant river otter. It is always important to be ethical with your wildlife photography and not to chase or harass the river otters, trying to get a more visible or all out action shot. They are anyway naturally curious and as you pass slowly through their territories, one of more of the family are likely to ‘pop up’ and give you a quizzical look. You may also come across them munching a freshly caught fish or crab and get to see how much they enjoy their food!
So, if you too would like to enjoy the company of the River Wolves during your Pantanal jaguar safari in Brazil, then why not join us on our small group Brazil wildlife holiday.