Q&A with Fabio Paschoal, Naturalist Guide at Cristalino Lodge

Fabio Paschoal

01 Feb 2018

NWS Tristan sits down with an expert on the Brazilian Amazon

When did your love of wildlife begin?

Since childhood I have been obsessed with animals. Whenever my parents could take me somewhere I would ask to go to the zoo. Books and more books about animals began to fill the shelves of my bedroom, and nature documentaries from National Geographic and the BBC were frequently on the TV in my house. I learned to respect and admire animals, and thanks to them I chose to study biology, became a naturalist guide and found what I really like to do.

How long have you worked at Cristalino?

I lived and worked as a guide at Cristalino Lodge for one year, from 2010 to 2011. I then came back in 2017 from July to December. The idea is now to come back in 2018!

What makes a stay at Cristalino so unique?

Cristalino Lodge, in the Brazilian Amazon, is a fantastic place! Only by being here, day after day, facing the sun on drought days and the rains in the flood months, following the changing behaviour of animals that need to adapt to these different seasons, climbing the observation tower to see the forest from a different perspective, watching the migratory birds arrive when the food is abundant and leaving when it is scarce, seeing the poisonous frogs that show up when the humidity increases, tasting fruits (delicious or not) that develop at different times of the year, noticing the life cycles of different species... Only in this way is it possible to attain an idea of what this place is. A place I learned to love! The Amazon taught me how to be a better person. I learned a lot about the ecosystem and about the relationships between living things and the environment. It's amazing how everything is perfect and fragile at the same time.

What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day at Cristalino involves waking up not knowing what the day will be like, but knowing that the day will be fantastic. You learn new things all the time and, moreover, you come to understand one of the most extraordinary places on the planet.

What wildlife can lodge guests hope to see?

It’s very difficult to predict the species of animals that we are going to see in a day. From the weather conditions to the time of day to the time of year, everything has to be considered. For example, tapirs are usually difficult to see. But from late August to the end of October (the peak of the dry season) we can almost guarantee tapirs on a boat tour upriver. During this time you have a higher chance of seeing animals drinking water at the river’s edge. September, meanwhile, is the best time for butterflies. There are also some strategic areas where you can sit and wait to see birds that are difficult to see elsewhere, and occasionally mammals as well. The rainy season (starting in November) is better for monkeys, snakes and poisonous frogs. Macaws, parrots, parakeets, toucans, aracaris, tanagers, cotingas and other birds can be seen all year round.

What is the most unusual wildlife sighting you've had in the Amazon?

Seeing a jaguar in the wild is difficult to explain. It stares at you, eye to eye, until it's sure you've seen it. Their size is also impressive. A jaguar dominates the place and it seems like everything else revolves around it, as if the forest stops at that moment just to watch it pass. Before it leaves, a pause - the jaguar looks back to see if you are still there. Your muscles are tense, your breath stops, your heart is racing. At that moment comes the certainty that something magical is happening. It is a very intense energy that will be imprinted in your memory forever. I had seen jaguars in the Pantanal, but I never thought I would see a jaguar in the Amazon. They are really difficult to see here. What a great experience!

Have you ever had a dangerous encounter?

You have to be really careful here, watching your step and where you put your hands. But I have seen wildcats and snakes on foot, I have swum with caimans, piranhas and giant river otters, and I have never had a dangerous encounter in the Amazon Rainforest.

What is your favourite part of your job?

It’s the unexpected. You wake up not knowing what you’re going to see but you know that what you will see will be awesome! I also like nature photography and I try to post at least one photo per day on my Instagram.

Are there any conservation projects in this area that you are particularly excited about?

In the Amazon, during the wet season, the jaguar leaves the soil and starts living in the treetops. With incredible ecological flexibility, the feline changes behavior to continue on in its territory, even as water floods the floodplain of the world's largest rainforest. This is one of the conclusions of research carried out by the Iauaretê Project of the Mamirauá Institute, a research unit of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

The information collected by the project serves as a basis for the maintenance of the jaguar observation tourism program, carried out only during the wet season (end of April to mid-June in that region of the Amazon) and maintained in partnership with Uakari Lodge. The Project is centred in the state of Amazonas, but it is one of the most interesting ones involving ecotourism in the Amazon Rainforest for me.

In the Pantanal the Onçafari Project [which NWS Tristan visited on his trip to Brazil] is really exciting too. The idea is to make jaguars habituated and behave in the same way as the wildcats in Africa when they see a car (the process does not involve domestication, such as offering food, and the selected cats remain wild.) The objective is to attract more tourists, get farmers more interested in the tourism of animal observation and generate new job opportunities for the people of the region, as well as help in the conservation of the jaguar and, consequently, its habitat. Onçafari is also the first project to successfully reintroduce jaguars in the Pantanal, and they are now planning to reintroduce them into the Amazon.

Finally, what advice would you give to anyone hesitating between visiting the Amazon and the Pantanal?

Do it! These are the places I love the most in the world!

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