The South African trackers made their first major breakthrough after only five days in the Pantanal. One would think that a landscape as foreign as this would take them a while to settle into, but not so. Andrea and Richard have hit the ground running and have been directly responsible for an increase in jaguar viewing at Caiman Ecological Refuge.
In the early hours of the morning I managed to find a clear set of male jaguar tracks. We followed the tracks for a while, but when things started getting difficult we got on the radio and called for assistance. Ten minutes later and the trackers arrived. I showed them the last track and explained where the tracks had come from. Like bloodhounds on duty they dropped their heads to the ground and began to work.
Any blade of grass out of place was rigorously examined. Soil fragments and subtle indentations were analysed meticulously. No clues were left unturned. Five minutes later and they were back on the trail. Using an uncanny sense of mutual understanding and inaudible communication they slipped away into the dense thicket.
They were hot on the heels of the phantom of the forest…a male jaguar!
They tracked through some incredibly difficult vegetation and terrain. Mosquitoes buzzed around their faces, ticks dug into their legs, and sweat dripped down their backs, but they stuck with it. Two hours later and the radio came to life. They asked me to come and meet them at a specific point. The sound of triumph carried over the airwaves. The entire Onçafari jaguar habituation team congregated at the meeting point dying to hear the news.
The trackers talked us through how they have managed to follow the male as he winded his way though the thickets and waded through the swamps. They had not ever seen the jaguar itself, but had managed to find where he had been eating a fresh carcass. Andrea and Richard took us to a patch of wet, blood stained ground. It was here that the kill had been made. With a series of animated gestures and sound effects they reenacted the event. The jaguar had dragged the carcass into the thickets in the early hours of the morning. He must have tried to hide it from the vultures.
There is a great chance that when Richard and Andrea had arrived on the scene that the jaguar was nearby. He may have been frightened and retreated into the depths of the surrounding forest. So although they never saw the jaguar – it was a major triumph.
We set up a stakeout in a car about 40 meters away. As the sunset on yet another magical day in the Pantanal, so out came a male jaguar. He returned to feed on his kill. With cameras rolling and wide-brimmed smiles we watched from the nearby car. Unperturbed by our presence we were able to watch him for over an hour.
Stay tuned for more stories on ‘The Jaguar Trackers’…
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Written and Photographed by Adam Bannister