Due to the sheer size of Caiman Ecological Refuge (53,000 acres!), every single journey across the ranch turns into a safari. You'll often be riding in one of the jeeps or trucks as you are driven to the lake for some sunset canoeing, or to a bush trail for one of the hikes, and such is the abundance of wildlife around the property that you are in for a treat each time. In addition to this, you are guaranteed a spotlight safari every evening. Every vehicle is equipped with different sorts of spotlights and your guide will be scanning what lies around as you make your way back to the lodge. My 3rd and final night drive was a beauty!
First of all, another ocelot! You already know about my newfound fascination for this diminutive predator, so spotting a 3rd one in as many nights was certainly more than I ever could have hoped for.
They are masters of stealth and camouflage - you are lucky if you see one! But three...? I guess I was probably due some good karma for not extinguishing a whole lineage of mosquitoes last night.
This time our ocelot was in the open, on the prowl for some fish on the banks of a small pond. One of the few remaining with sufficient water for a happy group of caiman. A large group of big happy caiman to be precise. What followed was a tense couple of minutes as the feline kept its head down looking for dinner, seemingly unaware that a row of caiman had formed probably less than 3 feet away. Guilherme, our guide, confirmed that, although not that common, if big enough, a caiman won't have any problem diversifying his menu and ordering ocelot for take away. Luckily the ocelot sensed our telepathic thoughts pushing him to safety and calmly returned to safer grounds in the forest. Phew!
Minutes later, a tapir crossed the path in front of us on his way to the mango orchards. Smart fellow, as the ground is currently a mango buffet, as if especially prepared for the largest land mammal in South America. In order to get a better view, we decided to continue on foot (this time with proper shoes! Rules 1 and 2, remember?). The poor tapir is virtually blind, doesn't hear all that well, however is blessed with a very good sense of smell. Although tonight, luck is on our side again as we are down wind, so as long as we tread carefully, the tapir won't be spooked. I did see several tapir in the Amazon and Northern Pantanal, but never this close. Apart from not having much clue about what's going on, and the occasional 150kg jaguar lurking, tapir live a pretty peaceful existence in the refuge and can often be seen in the higher ground of the land, where temperatures are slightly cooler.