Mating Jaguars in the Pantanal. My first encounter!
My first Jaguar safari in Brazil
I know that dreams do sometimes come true in life. As from the age of 6 I had wanted to see a wild jaguar and in July 2007 I achieved my dream; when I saw a pair of jaguars mating on the banks of the Cuiaba River in the Pantanal. Fast forward 10 years and this beautiful river is now the best place in the world to see Jaguars and big cat lovers from all over the world come to experience the special Brazil wildlife holiday that is a Pantanal jaguar safari.
How I planned by Jaguar safari in Brazil
Back in 2007 jaguar safaris in Brazil were not that well known and more ‘standard’ brazil wildlife tours focused on an Amazon safari, visits to key birding sites in the Atlantic Forest and it was mainly the odd wildlife photographer or conservation NGO, which was visiting the Pantanal in Brazil to see Jaguars. I was lucky enough to have some regular clients who had researched both central and south America for the best places to see Jaguars and using their helpful advice and information from a few wildlife guides on Brazil – both on-line guides and books – I was able to put together a 34-day wildlife holiday/recce in Brazil; which spent time in both the north and south Brazil.
Best place to see Jaguars in Brazil
Many big cat lovers now know that Brazil is the best place to see Jaguars in Brazil, but this is a huge country, rich in wildlife viewing opportunities and we need to be a little more specific when it comes to identify the top places in Brazil to see Jaguars. Yes, it is the Pantanal for the ultimate Jaguar safaris; but should you visit the north or south Pantanal and just because a tour say it has a 100% chance to see Jaguars, does not mean it is the right tour for you – especially if you care about the welfare of the wild animals you have come to photograph. Some unethical operators are tracking the Jaguars 24/7 and that is not a good model for wildlife tourism.
The time I spent in the south Pantanal – accessed via Campo Grande or Curumba – was more about the lifestyle of the remote cattle ranches found in the Pantanal; which are often hundreds of km’s from the nearest town. The owners of these ranches must use either boats or planes to reach their homes. I was lucky enough to connect the south and north Pantanal by an all day boat safari which took me from Porto Jofre, past the Jaguar sanctuary where scientists from the big cat NGO, Panthera, have studied Jaguar populations and on to a small family owned ranch. This was a part of the Pantanal where the BBC filmed a section on Piranha’s; due to the crystal clear water found nearby. We also were lucky enough to see Giant Anteaters and Marsh Deer.
However, it was the northern Pantanal – accessed from Cuiaba – that was to provide the ultimate Jaguar safari in Brazil and allow me to enjoy that incredible sighting of a mating pair of Jaguars on the bank of the Cuiaba River. You can drive from Cuiaba to the start of the famous Transpantaneira road in about 3 hours and where the wooden sign above the road greets you, is really where the Pantanal safari begins for real. Not only do you have the adventure of an unsealed road, but you start to see a lot of wildlife, especially birds, in the fields and water bodies of the huge ranches which dominate this region.
At the very end of the Transpantaneira road you have the water barrier that is the beautiful Cuiaba River and since a bridge was never built over the river, this literally is the ‘end of the road’. We are lucky enough to have the Porto Jofre Lodge right next to the river, which makes it the best place to stay for your Jaguar safari in Brazil. Much more comfortable than the houseboats which pack in large groups. Here you can wander the huge gardens and see Hyacinth Macaws, maybe a Giant River Otters and YES; even Jaguars have been seen here at night!
How to photograph Jaguars in the Pantanal
I am not an expert photographer, so my focus here is to give you some understanding of the conditions you will have to photograph Jaguars on the Cuiaba river and some of the challenges that poses. Firstly, there is a reasonably strong current on the main river, so when a Jaguar is spotted, your private guide and boatman will work together to try and keep your boat in the best area for Jaguar photography. Bearing in mind there are many trees and branches on the river bank and these can easily get in the way of the ‘Perfect Jaguar shot’. On our private Jaguar safaris in Brazil. it does help that you have the whole boat to yourself and can easily change position without disturbing another wildlife photographer taking their shot.
When we encountered the mating pair of Jaguars we had to face these exact same challengers, as only a small clear space existed around the mating pair and once the boat drifted a few metres out of this zone, we were faced with many branches obstructing our view. The current was strong that day, so since we were the only boat at the Jaguar sightings, we made 3 or 4 passes at a distance of around 30 metres from the pair, so as not to disturb them. I was rewarded with two or three great photos of the Jaguars and returned to Porto Jofre lodge in high spirits.
If you would like to experience the ultimate jaguar safari in the Pantanal then check out this small group Brazil wildlife holiday which spends 6 full days on the Cuiaba river – the best place to see Jaguars in the world.