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  • Writer's pictureRob Jansen

It’s a Wild Life! – Bees, Bats & Cats

Our most special hotel in Brazil was the Monastery of Santuário do Caraça, which is in the middle of a beautiful nature reserve. The main reason to go there was for the Maned Wolfs, which come to an offering at night in front of the chapel. This turned out to be more of a zoo-experience, but it was still amazing to see this large species of Fox for the first time. The special bats in the chapel’s tower were not there, but it was still very cool to get to secretive places like above the ceiling of a church just because we search for mammals like this!

After the monastery we went to Belo Horizonte, where we celebrated our 5th year wedding anniversary! On the 19th of May we not only went out for dinner, but also tried to extend our visa for Brazil with another 3 months. Long story short: Dutch people (like most Europeans) don’t get an extension for normal tourism. So we had to change our plans and decided to make a loop through the central cerrado of Brazil (a special kind of habitat, more on that later). By making a route through central Brazil and then crossing over to the Pantanal and Emas NP, we would cover most of the places we wanted to visit in Southern Brazil. This new route prevented us from driving for one week straight from the Northeast of Brazil to the Paraguayan border. On top of that we have some nice and more logistically logical routes left if we would come back to Brazil :)

But this new route involved a lot of driving, as you can see on the map of places we visited (click here for the map, which you can also find on this page: More than 8 hours driving, or even 16 hours for one stretch of the trip, were more rule than exception. But this is how we got to many places where we saw very rare and beautiful birds and mammals! But with so much driving you can imagine that we were very happy to get invited as family when we made a stop at a place where we only planned to bird for one afternoon. Mario & Jeanne are photographers and birders as well and are very enthusiastic about all wildlife, which they eagerly showed us. They traveled a lot when they were younger and were happy to give back now. This is how we spend 4 days at their place, sharing dinners, breakfast and stories :). It is so amazing how people welcome complete strangers into their home. Something which is not common in our culture, but which we should really do more as well! As our time on our visa was running out we had to leave after 4 days. To the objection of Mario & Jeanne, who already planned other cooking lessons for Romy the next day and wanted to show us way more of the beautiful nature over there.

Both of them had great contacts in Brazil and arranged for us to stay at a lodge in the Northern Pantanal in exchange for photos that Rob would make over there. The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland and half the year the grasslands are flooded by water that flows from the huge surrounding higher areas towards the ‘bathtub’ that is the Pantanal area. Most of the area is privately owned by fazendas, which use the land for cattle farming. Despite this (some do a great job in combining cattle farming and nature conservation) the Pantanal is home to many big mammals and beautiful birds. The best mammal-watching season is later in the year when it is dryer, so even though we drove many many hours at night, the amount of mammals we saw was quite low. Still we managed to see species like Black-tailed Marmoset, Lowland Tapir and Red Brocket Deer. We saw the largest macaw species in the world: the Hyacinth Macaw, and the largest flying bird of Central and South-America: the Jabiru, a species of stork. We also searched for bats, which are normally searched for in old buildings, termite nests, tree hollows, under bridges etc. We found multiple cool species, some that catch fish by raking their huge feet across the water surface, and bats that eat frogs by listening for their calls! Searching around a huge fig tree Rob suddenly saw bees coming towards him and before he knew it he was stung multiple times. Luckily the pain was alleviated quickly when we found some really beautiful bats under a bridge shortly after.

The Pantanal is also a really good place for cats, like Puma, Ocelot and Jaguar! By doing a (really expensive) boat trip on the river, most people saw as many as 3 to 8 Jaguars in one day! Some saw a mother with cubs, others a hunt. Jaguars are sort of guaranteed this time of year, so we were looking forward to this trip a lot! Right when we waited for the boat to arrive, raindrops started to fall. Unusual this time of year… it normally doesn’t rain at all between May-October. Thinking the rain would stop in an hour, we still went on the boat. The boat driver told us chances of seeing a Jaguar are close to 0 with rain, but it would probably get dry soon. He said that even in the middle of the rainy season it only rains for 2-3 hours. But not today… it poured the whole day and we only had about 30 dry minutes in the middle of the day. Most boats already went back, because all the caimans were in the water and the Jaguars don’t come out to hunt. The boats communicate via walkie-talkie when they see a Jaguar, so this means that with less people searching, chances were even lower now. Besides that, it was super cold and we were soaking wet. We shared the boat with two Brazilians we met earlier, and luckily they were ok with continuing. In the middle of the day we saw two boats lying still next to each other, watching the riverbank. And there it was: a huge male Jaguar!!! Licking its paws for a few minutes, before going back into the bushes. In the night before we were lying in the tent, hearing Jaguars roaring far away, and we were fantasizing if we would see 3 or 8 Jaguars… but you can imagine we were so happy with just 1 Jaguar given the circumstances! It turned out that this was the only jaguar sighting this day! Right after lunch on the boat we saw a family of Giant Otters coming our way, hunting for fish. These otters can get as big as 2 meters, so they are quite a sight to see. We were able to photograph them without much rain and follow them for a while. Right after that it started raining again and the Brazilians wanted to go back. This might have been the right decision, because the road back to the lodge was in terrible state and we slipped many times! Driving the 90 kilometres for 4,5 hours, crossing bridges in terrible state we luckily made it. But not without getting stuck multiple times and using our snow chains to get on the road again. You can imagine it is quite scary to drive your motorhome and slipping to the side just before getting to a bridge! The road only got worse the days after, as more and more rain fell down and the road was getting worse and worse by the cars slipping and getting stuck.

After the Pantanal we went to Emas NP; 130.000 hectares of Cerrado habitat. Most people outside Brazil know the rainforest (the Amazon and maybe the Atlantic Rainforest), some know the Pantanal, but few people know Cerrado. Cerrado is tropical savannah, the South-American equivalent of the African savannahs. It covers about 20% of Brazil and is the 2nd biggest habitat type in Brazil after the Amazon rainforest. As most of the cerrado land is flat, most of it is destroyed for agriculture. Catle farmin, soy and corn, mainly as feed for cattle, make it an endangered habitat and precious little is left. There are many endemic birds and mammals living in these grasslands, so a place like Emas NP is a special place to visit! After we (only) saw one cat species in the Pantanal, we hoped to rake up the list here in Emas NP. Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, but also the very special Pampas Cat, are all seen here. We spotlighted for many hours and drove 100’s of kilometres but didn’t get to see any cats unfortunately. We did see the rare White-winged Nightjar and huge Lowland Tapirs, a skunk, many (common) foxes and an amazing Maned Wolf in the wild! What a privilege to see and photograph all these birds and mammals in what is left of Brazil’s nature.

We just crossed the border to Paraguay and are taking some time in the capital Asunción (without temptations to search for birds and mammals) to relax a little, arrange some things and sort all the pictures. Also we have an oven, so we're making all those meals we missed and baking apple pies and brownies! After this time of rest the west of Paraguay awaits for us with exiting Chaco habitat, and hopefully many new birds and mammals. We would like to hear what you think of our adventures! Let us know via the Website, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook or any way you like :)


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