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Letter from Brazil: Pantanal Region

Updated Thursday 5th July 2007

David Robinson reports on a trip to the Pantanal Region in Brazil.

Red crested cardinals, residents of the Pantanal region Copyrighted image Icon Copyright:

I flew from Iguassu to Cuaiba, and then travelled up in the Pantanal region of the Matagrosso. Unfortunately, no luggage arrived with me, so instead of a day by day audio diary, I wrote a letter from the Pantanal to a fellow zoologist. The following is a summary of my adventures.

The Pantanal region

With its diverse mix of wildlife and vegetation the Pantanal region of Brazil could be used as a metaphor for the rest of South America.

In the vast areas of swamps and lagoons that you can see great varieties of life, both flora and fauna.

Music can be heard wherever you go - sounds of water, birds singing and insects buzzing both day and night.

The average temperature during the summer month is a very humid 32°C.

During winter it falls to an average temperature of around 21°C.

The annual rainfall is around 1,000 to 1,400 mm. December and January are the most rainy months of the year.

Many endangered species in other regions of the country, still present a strong population in the Pantanal.

There are roughly 650 bird species living in the Pantanal region.

There are around 80 mammalian species and over 50 types of reptile.

Four wheel drive

The journey from Cuaiba should have been by canoe, but the water level in the river is so low that it wasn't possible so I had to make the journey in a four-wheel drive truck.

The track was just a dirty track, and the journey took about three hours but there was a lot of interest on the way - including re-laying planks on bridges, so that the truck could cross. There were rheas and seriamas (the roadrunners), capybara, vultures, a variety of other birds, and so there was plenty to see.

The place I'm staying is about twenty kilometres from the nearest village, so it's deep in the jungle and very peaceful. And the food here is all fresh. Fish from the river, or beef, with locally grown vegetables, and plenty of fresh fruit, and there's also cold beer, but the showers are cold too. The daytime temperatures are up to 39ºC, but in the evenings it's a bit cooler, and it's quite comfortable sitting in the lodge behind the mosquito nets, that surround the dining and sitting area. It gets dark about 6.30 and by 7.30 there's a riot of insect sound outside.

At one point on the lakeshore, we came upon a whole cluster of young Caiman, probably over fifty. Some were in holes in the river bank, others swimming in the water or balanced on floating logs, and they were making strange squawking sounds, which was new to me, because I didn't know that Caiman made sound. It was such a privilege to be amongst so much wildlife and so much that is new to me.

At the end of two hours, we reached a bend in the river and then drifted quietly. At dusk, fish eating bats appeared, large numbers of them skimmed over the surface around the boat, and occasionally one would dip its legs into the water and grab a fish. Once it was really dark, we went back down the river for about an hour. With a powerful light, you could see the red reflections from all the Caimans, large numbers of them all the way down the river.

Close encounters with Caiman

At one point I was watching the trees in search of roosting birds, when there was an enormous splash, and a thud against the side of the boat, followed by splashing. The guide swung his torch round, and I saw the tail of a huge Caiman against the side of the boat, and then its belly as it turned and spun away. What had happened was, that Caiman who was chasing a fish, had hit the side of the boat, which flung the Caiman onto its back, and it spun away.

The fish had got so far out of the water, that it landed back inside the boat. I'm glad the Caiman didn't come in and join it! Further down the river we came up on lots of capybara with their young. We were able to get very close, as the light did not seem to disturb them. When the light was off, the sky was bright with the stars, all new constellations, of course and the southern cross very prominent.

Fire flies were winking their messages from trees and shrubs all along the river banks. There was the perpetual sound of bush crickets, and cicadas in the air, definitely a magical experience.

Bird watching

Today I got up at six o'clock to go and look at the birds. I sat out on the riverbank and watched cardinals feeding in the trees. Two toucans came to the papaya tree, and all sorts of blue backed birds with bright yellow tails. The toucans are fascinating because they're the large toucans that you used to see a lot on adverts for Guinness.

We took a boat up river, to the start of a jungle path, and then walked for a couple of hours looking at birds. There were a large number of Caiman along the river bank, also in the water, and you could just see the eyes and the tips of the nostrils showing above the water's surface.

The landscape's not quite what I expected. The forest is thick, it would be very difficult to get through, but the swamp areas are very green, open, and some of them are very dried up at the moment.

You have a feeling of being in wide-open spaces. Where cattle graze the land is more open, but dotted with termite nests.

They can be five foot high, and apparently, the termite nests can survive the temporary inundation of much of the land, during the really wet season in December.

Rio de Janerio

So now I'm back in Rio, ready to catch the plane home. and I've had a day doing the tourist sites.

I've been up to the top of the hill, where there's a huge statue of Christ, and I've looked out over the superb views of Rio de Janeiro.

I've been along the Copacabana beach, I've been to Ipanema, and I've been round the old fort, at one of end of Copacabana beach.

So I've done my one day as a tourist. I've had a hot shower for the first time in nearly three weeks, and I'm now looking forward to getting home.


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