Pantanal Stories and Tips

Nocturnal safari in the swamp of 32 million crocodiles

jacare Photo, Pantanal, Brazil

The hissing of the crocodiles was the most nerve-wracking. This was followed by a deceptive waddle as they hauled themselves out of the water and onto the land. Their eyes were fixed on the meat, and their jaws opened in response to an easy meal. They started to swagger as they approached the meat, and scarlet dusk light reflected off their ridge-like scales as more and more of them emerged from the water...

And me? Well, what can I say? I was only two feet away from them…

Along with the Maracana stadium and the churches of Salvador de Bahia, the highlight of this trip to Brazil has to be the jacare (crocodiles) in the Pantanal. This region of Brazil is famous for its sheer volume of jacare/caiman, and the Pantanal is meant to have over 32 million. They far outnumber human beings in this part of South America, and for the most part, these caiman are pretty harmless. According to Silvio, our guide, they will not eat anything bigger then themselves and spend their time in the drying pools of the savannah catching insects, piranha, and occasionally, when times get hard, each other.

Part of the stay at Pousada Aguape was a dusk trip into the water meadows/savannah to see the jacare. We knew it was going to be special when we saw Silvio haul a canvas bag of meat portions and fish pieces into the open-air car. For three hours, we were taken out into the wilds, way beyond the cattle paddocks of the pousada, out to where a thousand creatures lived and flourished. We were taken out in the most basic of safari vehicles -- an open-topped car with wooden boards for seats. And as it was early spring in Brazil, the weather was warm during the day, but the temperature plummeted at night. There was no rain, but taking a jumper or sweater out with us was advised, as it became very chilly.

The advantage of going out in a car is that you are on a higher level than a horse or on foot and can see further across the water meadows. As it was approaching sunset, the wildlife of the Pantanal had one more flurry of activity before settling down for the night. There were hawks and birds in the trees, including that magnificent predator, the Caracara. Numerous herds of zebu are left out here for the night (despite jaguars), and occasionally, in the distance were marsh deer, and far, far away, we thought we saw the South American ostrich -- the rhea. As dusk fell, huge flocks of birds headed back to their nests and the feeling of the Pantanal began to change, brought home to us by the shuffling shape of an armadillo which fled into the undergrowth as if he had been shot from a cannon.

We bumped along a track for an hour until reaching our destination -- an elongated lake surrounded by jungle. We climbed down from the car, and Silvio fetched his canvas bag. Sunset was occurring, and through the dappled orange light, we could make out five jacare lounging on the bank near a picnic table. We approached, and they did nothing; only when Silvio opened his canvas bag did they start to stir. The hissing started, and they slowly came to life. Eyes started to appear by magic in the pond next to us. The jacare on the bank started to move in our direction until they were right next to us. It was unnerving, having a untamed wild reptile a few feet away from you. The show really began when Silvio started to toss them meat and fish.

They snapped it up. Their heads were thrown back to swallow the flesh, and they made strange gulping sounds which were returned by those in the pond. More and more emerged from the water, and started to hiss and snap at each other to get at the meat. When they got a lump, they would immediately hold their heads up, keeping it away from the others. We were exceptionally close, almost within touching distance. Brenda stood on a table until one took his meat and then hid underneath it. And at one point, I felt a brush at the back of my leg, and there were more emerging behind me! There must have been about one hundred in the lake, and their gulping sounds reverberated across the water whenever we approached. About ten were drawn up on the waters edge, and Silvio clapped his hands sending them scooting into the water like a scene from a Tarzan film. I asked if we were in any danger, and the translation was that they do not eat anything bigger than themselves. But if you were immobile and couldn't fight back? Well, that would be a different story.

Finally, we dragged ourselves away and walked the shore of the lake. The receding light was now yellow, and the trees around us housed nesting birds. The sounds of their cawing and squawking were deafening. Four trees near the lake were literally top-heavy with roosting avians (aves in Portuguese), and their silhouettes were stark against the setting sun. But it was in the minutes after dusk that we saw our best animals. Back in the open-topped car, shivering with cold, we made our way back to the pousada, and Silvio’s torchlight picked up a number of shapes. Near the river, the white light caught the rear of an animal with tremendous bulk and tiny little legs -- these could only be capybaras. One large male walked ahead of the car for a while, so we got a good look at his enormous hairy backside, black face, and gerbil hair. He literally held us up for ten minutes as he prevaricated which part of the river he wanted to slide into while his family chewed grass near the water’s edge.

We also caught the two officious little foxes we saw earlier that day, and the night calls as you bump along can be rather creepy. I never ceased to be amazed by the diversity of life in the Pantanal. Well and truly worth crossing oceans and continents to see...

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip