At the end of August, Jess Shillaw, tracker Freddy Ngobeni and I embarked on a trip of a lifetime with Londolozi’s multi-repeat guest Thais Racy to explore the depths of the forests in Brazil. We spent eight nights in the famous Pantanal National Park in search of Brazil’s apex predator – the Jaguar as well as many other special wild animals. Travelling completely ‘blind’ to what new experiences we were about to witness and having very little idea of how safari worked abroad we entered Brazil with very few expectations and were extremely excited for our adventure.
Now the main reason I am taking this opportunity to link this incredible trip to today’s blog is because of the relationship Londolozi and its leopards have with Brazil’s Pantanal and its jaguars. A private game reserve in the southern Pantanal called Caiman has a team operating on a day-to-day basis following and conducting research on the jaguar population in the area. Just before their establishment of the jaguar project the founder of Project Onçafari, Mario Haberfeld visited Londolozi and was exposed to the success story of the habituation of Londolozi’s leopards. The relationship we as the custodians of the land and our guests have with these elusive predators is a direct result of the cautious approach to habituating these sensitive creatures.
After leaving Londolozi Mario decided to adopt the strategy of habituation and protection of the jaguars of Caiman Pantanal in the hope that one day the jaguar viewing would have guests travelling from all over the world to visit their special place, in turn protecting the wildlife of the Pantanal, creating jobs and reducing the loss of wild areas in Brazils amazing national park.
In 2013 Londolozi in conjunction with the Tracker Academy, as well as Mario Haberfeld and Project Onçafari, sent two Londolozi trackers at the time, Andrea Sithole (now a current senior guide at Londolozi) and Richard Mthabini (a current tracker at Londolozi) across to join the jaguar research and habituation team operating in the heart of Brazil. With the experience they had in tracking leopards and lions on foot in Africa, they were to showcase their skills in another continent, tracking an animal that portrays incredible similarities to the ones they were used to, however, the terrain and vegetation were somewhat different.
Andrea and Richard spent three months at Caiman working with the Onçafari team, tracking jaguars on foot, spending time viewing them from vehicles and beginning the process of habituation which became the approach to protecting these magnificent creatures.
Jumping ahead 10 years, we, two Londolozi guides and one of Londolozi’s expert trackers, witnessed Project Onçafari’s remarkable success. They habituated several jaguars on the reserve, drawing visitors from around the world. During our time at Caiman Lodge, we managed to see ten different jaguars in just four days, it was unbelievable. These jaguars were all relatively at ease with vehicles, raising cubs, defending territories, and hunting, showcasing their natural behaviour. Doing what wild jaguars do best, all unperturbed by our presence.
Like many wild places, the Pantanal has faced many human-wildlife conflicts, leading to dwindling jaguar populations. Thanks to Project Onçafari’s success, jaguar numbers have since started to increase, slowly approaching their sustainable levels. We were particularly thrilled to witness how a new game reserve, a fresh conservation project, and a united group of like-minded conservationists can collaborate to safeguard and preserve a wilderness area.
During our five days of heading out on a game drive with the Onçafari team at Caiman Lodge, we managed to capture a number of different photographs of a few different jaguars.
Below are some of the highlights, I hope you enjoy…