Enigmatic, graceful and mysterious, the Jaguar is notoriously hard to track for any but the most experienced naturalist guide, and a deep understanding of the creature's behaviour and habitat is key to achieving a sighting of this elusive big cat. |
The Importance of Location
With an accessible terrain and the highest density of the big cat in the world, the Brazilian Pantanal is the most popular place for Jaguar tours in South America. In some regions, concerted conservation efforts have focused on habituating the animals, meaning they have developed a measure of trust with the eco-tourism operators' vehicles - both on road and the water. This is an important aspect when it comes to Jaguar tours, as it vastly increases the chances of a sighting.
The seasonally flooded tropical wetlands, savannahs, and lush forests are teeming with vast numbers of mammal, bird, aquatic and amphibian species and it's a veritable wildlife hotspot. But water is the lifeblood of this bio-diverse eco-system, and the network of rivers, at the end of the Transpantaneira Road (the only permanent year-round route), that wind through the Pantanal offer ideal conditions to encounter a huge array of species, including the Jaguar.
The Rivers of the Pantanal
After years of boat surveys and research, a 100km stretch upstream from Porto Jofre that includes the Cuiabá River, the Tres Irmãos River and a section of the Piquir River has been identified as the best riverbank territory to see the big cat. And because the animals are habituated to watercraft, visitors on Jaguar tours are able to observe them hunting, drinking, or languidly sunning themselves on the riverbanks.
In 2011, the establishment of the SouthWild Jaguar Flotel (a floating hotel) created a unique location for visitors to stay on Jaguar tours. Anchored near the mouth of the Three Brothers River, it has been strategically located to allow rapid water access to any site along the river in the so-called 'Jaguar Zone', which, over the past eight years has yielded 93% of all sightings in the area. There is also an abundance of Giant Otters in the zone, another animal much sought after by wildlife lovers.
The opportunity to stay on a vessel in the middle of prime big cat territory affords visitors an experience unlike any other, as the animals are comfortable with its presence and quite often come within several metres along the riverbank. Sightings can be made at any time of the day or night, and the opportunities to capture them on camera are laid out like a smorgasbord.
The Flotel's eco-credentials are superb, as its aquatic location required no trees to be felled and its presence and ongoing operations do not impede or interfere with the natural balance of the wildlife. There is always a full-time research biologist on board and accommodation is basic, but comfortable and air-conditioned.
Sighting a Jaguar in the wild is the ultimate goal for many wildlife enthusiasts; today, with the rise of reputable eco-tourism, and the benefit of many years' research, experienced guides are able to take visitors to the very best locations in the Brazilian Pantanal – both on land and on the water.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led Jaguar tours organised by NatureTrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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