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Trip Report Summary

Jaguars and the Wildlife of the Pantanal

Read the individual Trip Reports:
Trip One

Trip Two
Southern Pantanal Extension


Climate change. We hear so much about it and everyone questions whether or not it is real. Obviously we don't know, either, but this year our Seventh in doing Pantanal trips, we experienced the repercussions of odd weather. Normally, by May the dry season has returned to the Pantanal, and by August, the time of our trips, the flood waters have receded and most wildlife activity is restricted to the main rivers and their tributaries. This year, in both June and July, unusual and very heavy rain storms occured and the water levels stayed high. I learned later that after we left the northern Pantanal another out-of-season, unusually heavy rain occured, and the usual commute from Porto Joffre to one of the lodges took over twice as long, nine hours, because of the muddy, slippery roads. By September the Pantanal should be in the height of the dry season, so this weather is highly unusual.

A good friend who also leads photo tours to the Pantanal preceeded me by 10 days, and in that preceeding week the rivers were within 18 inches of the tops of the river banks. Normally, at this time of year, the steep river banks are eight or ten feet high. Accordingly, at least then, there was no shoreline, and no sand bars for Caimans and Capybaras to bask or rest. With the water so high, ponds and pools and wetlands beyond the river banks were full, so the prey animals, especially the Caimans and Capybaras, were inside, and so too were many of the jaguars. In fact, for the first few days of his trip he rarely saw either prey species.

By the time we arrived the water had dropped several feet, and sand bars were visible. However the interior still had water, and although we saw both Caimans and Capybaras, we did not see them in the usual numbers. We saw as many or even more Jaguars as we usually do, and had sixteen (16) sightings on the first trip, while our record, I believe, is 20. On the second trip the water level had dropped down to normal levels, with the usual sandbars now visible, with Caimans, Capybaras, and birds back in place. We also had sixteen (16) Jaguars on the second trip, and the frequency of prey animals may have reflected the lower water levels and abundance of game along the river banks, drawing the Jaguars here.

On the first tour most of the Jaguars we saw were males, and several of these had radio collars which compromised or ruined great shooting opportunities. These collars were placed by the Panthera Organization, a big cat conservation group, for the purpose of monitoring the travels and activity of the Jaguars. There is some controversy here, as critics will say that to radio collar a Jaguar requires capturing it first. Supposedly, and I only heard this from non-Panthera sources, the cats are captured via a leg snare, which is a fairly standard procedure for catching big cats. The snare, a heavy cable I believe, tightens on the cat's leg, holding it in place until it is discovered, sedated, collared, and released. Observers on the river have reported seeing limping, collared Jaguars, as if they had injured their leg in the process.

To be fair, I don't know if that claim is true, but that's exactly what happened to the first Jaguar collared in the state of Arizona, and that Jaguar was subsequently put to death from the stress of a second capture. Charlie Munn, who has spear-headed Jaguar tourism in this region, believes that fairly accurate monitoring can occur simply by observation and photography, as almost all the cats have been photographed and given names, and when a new cat appears, as happened on our second trip, they know it. While record keeping in this way would only work along the river edges, and would not show how far inland or away from the river a cat might travel, there would also be no risk posed to the cat. Conversely, as an over-zealous researcher did in Arizona, one could literally study an animal to death.

On the second tour, most of the Jaguars were females, and not one of the 16 we saw had a collar! Except for luck, I have no explanation for the difference, but I can say that I am very excited about the number of females that we saw. This year the number of tame, photographable females was a first, and really bodes well for next year when some of these females should have cubs! In fact, on our first trip we saw a mating which occured only meters away, but at the most romantic moment took place behind a tree, with only the hindends, the business end, visible!

When we first arrived in the Pantanal the channels and pools lining the Transpantaneria Road were completely full, with water stretchng off into the thick vegetation of the flatlands. Normally these pools would be in the process of drying up and Herons, Egrets, and other birds, and hundreds of Caimans would be gathered on the banks and in the shallows. We saw virtually no birds as we drove into the Pantanal, and it was only on our very last day of the second tour, as we drove out of the Pantanal, that we saw the beginning of the spectacle.

For the first time, I used, and recommended using, monopods instead of tripods for use on the boats. Using a tripod has always been somewhat problematic, as we had to reposition and adjust legs as we faced left, or right, or straight ahead. With a monopod this was easy. Instead of using a ballhead, I used a RRS MH-02Pro monopod head. A monopod head doesn't have all the tilting features of a ballhead, which is then accomplished by either tilting the monopod or rotating the lens via a loosened lens collar. This is not only faster, but saves one from crushed fingers when a loosened ballhead flops down on a hand! I used the monopod about 95% of the time, and the only time I didn't was when we had a female, Patricia, on a riverbank for six hours, while we were firmly moored into a thick growth of water hyacinths. Our skiff wasn't moving, and it was easy and convenient to simply mount the camera/lens on my Wimberley Gimbal head and wait. On that fairly firm platform (the moored skiff) and no changes in camera position the tripod was perfect, and I carried both the monopod and the tripod out on every boat excursion. On land, I usually used the tripod, at least 80% of the time. As usual, I transported my most important gear to the Pantanal in my Gura Gear Bataflae bag, and about 75% of our participants were using either that bag or the smaller Keboko bag. The CF and SD cards I used were Hoodman cards, which have never failed me and, at 64 and 32gb, never ran out on a day's shoot. For my camera trap work I used several Range IR trippers and two RRS TP-243 Ground 'Pod for the cameras, using small ball heads on rods to support my flashes.

I did several camera trap setups using the Range IRs and carried along three complete flash systems, which I triggered with inexpensive Phottix flash triggers that fired from the Transmitter attached to my camera's hotshoe. Carrying 12 flashes, four Range IRs, 15 Phottix receivers and transmitters, and the cables for the Range IRs (to trigger either a camera or a flash) used to be a real mess, but this year I organized everything in Gura Gear Et Cetera pouches. Four flashes and accessories would fit perfectly in the larger case, and the Range IR and cable in the smallest. All the cases were light weight, and I'd highly recommend these for organization and in the field use.

mIn the course of the 28 days that I was in the Pantanal I photographed at least 80 different species of birds, and could have had 100 had I made any effort to shoot some species I've done well with on previous trips. I photographed at least 20 species of mammal, including Jaguar, Ocelot, Crab-eating Fox, Crab-eating Raccoon, Marsh Deer, Pampas Deer, and Brocket Deer. On our first trip two people did a boat trip while the rest of the group rested (I was out setting up camera traps) and had a truly spectacular Brazilian Tapir, capturing incredible images I'd die for. Mike Johnson's images grace this report.

Admittedly, my mammal count was high because I was in both the Northern Pantanal and in the Southern Pantanal on our extension, a trip we will repeat in 2016. Next year we'll only be doing one rather extended trip to the Northern Pantanal, but we'll be spending three extra days on the land portion at wildlife lodges, and an extra day on the boat for Jaguars.

For a more detailed report, please read the day to day summary of each of the Trip Reports for Tour One, Tour Two, or the Southern Pantanal Extension.

Finally, this trip was unusual because Mary was unable to join me. In June, after our Svalbard Trip, Mary had her second knee replaced (she now has two artificial knees) and, three weeks later, had back surgery, which went much harder than we had expected. She had hoped to join the group for the second tour, if her knee permitted, but once the back surgery was scheduled we knew that option was out. Seven weeks post-back surgery she was on her own, with our only contact via Skype. It was a tough time for her, and for me, who now had to assume all the responsibility!

If you are interested in next year's Ultimate Northern Pantanal tour, contact our office immediately! We only have a few spaces open, and the brochure may not (as of 9-9-14) be completely updated, but it will give you an idea.


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Ocelot shot with a camera trap, using a Range IR and three flashes.
If you are interested in this type of photography, read on!

In 2015 we are planning on running our Advanced Nature Photography Course which will be primarily concerned with Mastering Flash, remote or camera triggering devices like the Range IR, and macro photography. Contact our office if you are interested.

We would love if everyone who did our Photo Safaris and Tours did one of our Digital Complete Nature Photo Courses to learn manual exposure, flash, workflow, and basic Photoshop and in-depth RAW conversion. We think everyone would get even more out of our trips if they truly were masters of the craft.

Read about all our previous Jaguars and the Wildlife of the Pantanal trips.
Refer to our BROCHURE to get an idea of next year's trip!
Exact dates and prices may not be updated.

Visit our Trip and Scouting Report Pages for more images and an even better idea of what our trips to the Pantanal are like. There you'll find our archived reports from previous years.