The Jaguar Queen of the Pantanal
Where to see Jaguars in the Wild?
Big cat lovers and photographers who have enjoyed multiple safaris in Africa and Asia often turn their attentions to the America’s and the chance to see the native big cats which roam these two great continents. As attractive as the Mountain Lion, cougar or puma is to big cat lovers, for sheer physical strength, beauty and legend, it is hard to think of any other cat than the Jaguar. I myself was mesmerised as a 6 year old child, reading about this fearless predator, taking on huge caimans and Anaconda’s in the jungles of South America and longed one day to see one for myself. That day arrived back in July 2007, but where did I see my first Jaguar and what is now regarded as the best place to see Jaguars in the Wild?
Jaguar Safaris in the Pantanal
Before I travelled to Brazil in 2007 I had spoken with friends and clients who shared my passion for Jaguars and who have attempted to see them in various countries in South and Central America, including places such as Belize and Guyana – without success. They told me how thick the jungle was in these destinations and how you would need to be so lucky to see one swimming between forests or on a night time walk. So, it seems we needed to find a more open habitat for the best location to see Jaguars; but still with habitat close to water for this aqua loving feline.
The answer was to take a Jaguar safari in one of the biggest wetlands in the world; the stunning Brazilian Pantanal which dominates the southern border of Mato Grosso state. This is not dense forest like the Amazon, but vast ranch lands owned and managed for generations by the Pantaneiro cowboys who are famed for their horse skills, hardiness and as owners of cattle which were brought over from Asia to cope with the hot conditions of the Pantanal. These cowboys were no lovers of the Jaguars and until the 1990’s hunted the Jaguars with dogs and guns to make these big cats very nervous of humans and incredibly difficult to find and photograph.
Why are Jaguars now thriving in the Pantanal?
Lucky visitors who now enjoy a Jaguar safari on the Cuiaba River have international NGO’s and far sighted local Pantaneiro to thank for their Jaguar encounters and beautiful photographs. It was back in the early 90’s that NGO’s like the World Conservation Society started to work with local farmers to encourage them to develop their lodges for tourists; who instead of coming to shoot the Jaguars with guns, would instead shoot with cameras. With the explosion of the internet, these Jaguar photographs were seen around the world and big cat lovers soon realised that the Pantanal was the best place in the world to see Wild Jaguars and they started to fill the lodges and boats which were now selling Jaguar safaris to international wildlife lovers.
Best time of year to see Jaguars in Brazil?
The first point to make is that of all big cats in the world, Jaguars are certainly not put off by a little rain and in reality you could see Jaguars any month of the year in Brazil. However it is important to point out that some of the roads to reach the best places to see Jaguars become damaged during the rainy season and overall logistics and difficulty increases in the rainy season. So, the general rule would be to wait until at least May and not visit much after early November to reduce the risk of heavy rains impacting your Jaguar safari in the Pantanal.
During the dry season in Brazil from approximately May until October we see the river levels start to drop in the Pantanal. This exposes more and more of the sandy river banks which the Jaguars love to rest on; often in the shade of trees, which cling precariously to the river edge. It is common for Jaguars to cross these rivers on a regular basis; whether it me to continue walking in their territories or when actively hunting. It has now been widely observed how the Jaguars hunt caimans, capybara and other prey by using the river and their low head position in the water as camouflage.
Jaguar safari in the Pantanal – how to organise the best trip?
Having visited the south Pantanal (accessed from Campo Grande) and the north (accessed from Cuiaba) I have definitely seen major differences. I noticed that the ranches and ‘eco-lodges’ in the south tend to focus more on ‘soft adventure’ activities, combining horse riding, canoeing and birding walks with the ‘chance’ to see Jaguars. That is not to say with a long stay at the best time of year to see Jaguars you will not be successful, but the focus is not just on Jaguar safaris – for some clients, that could be a good thing. Whereas as soon as you get to the end of the Transpantaneira road, you know for sure that the focus is 100% Jaguars – well, let’s not forget the Giant River Otters, Tapir and Giant Anteaters – but the star of the show is the Jaguar!
We have an amazing Jaguar safari in October 2017 with no less than 6 full days of full day boat safaris on the world famous Cuiaba River. Last year our clients enjoyed nearly 20 encounters with this beautiful big cat. Check out our small group Jaguar safari at Porto Jofre.