Nothing in life is guaranteed, except death, taxes and jaguar ruling the Pantanal. To most, the number one highlight of any wildlife safari to Brazil, and rightfully so.
The third largest big cat in the world is majestic, beautiful, awe-inspiring… the superlatives run dry before you manage to accurately describe the apex predator of the Amazon and Pantanal.
The excitement leading up to my first sighting was visible, as I just couldn’t get that grin off my face, before heading out on the banks of the Cuiaba River in the northern Pantanal. You know the jaguars are there - this region boasts the highest concentration of them in Brazil - so as long as you are here at the right time of year, it’s just a matter of when you will see one and what it will be doing. I wasn’t picky, and over the course of 16 days I was treated to 15 sightings. Whether the jaguar was sleeping in golden sunlight, losing a staring competition with a caiman, mating (kids look away) or hunting on the river banks, each sighting produced moments of true unfiltered amazement.
Every sighting was special for me, but my favourite one may also have been the one where the jaguar was the most hidden by vegetation. At the Caiman Ecological Refuge, a 53,000 acre ranch teaming with wildlife in the southern Pantanal, a young female in need of privacy left the pond where she was hunting for caiman and ran for the treeline as we approached in our truck. We came to a halt and observed her for a little while, as we could only make her head and a few rosettes from behind the bushes. What made this particular sighting special was that the treeline section of forest she entered was part of a restricted protected national reserve. Off-limits to everyone: no traveller, biologist or local cattle farmer is allowed beyond this treeline, as decided by the federal government to ensure the protection of certain wildlife-rich areas across the country. I had the funny feeling that this jaguar knew this, and was telling us something along the lines of “ok you may see me, but this is MY land, MY primary rainforest”. Or maybe she was playing a game of seduction, trying carefully to not reveal too much and entertain the mystery. Either way, it worked, and left us baffled.
Where I saw jaguar: Southwild Jaguar Flotel, Caiman Ecological Refuge (Cordilheira Lodge/Baiazinha Lodge).
: June to October (dry season in the Pantanal).