Brazil’s land of the jaguar
Rounding a bend, de Souza motioned the boatman to slow down as the river became narrow, the jungle thick and verdant. There was an air of tension as eyes scanned each bank, eagerly searching for movement, for anything that would break the green lines of vegetation.
“There,” de Souza said quietly, pointing to a low tree hanging over the water. “Underneath, asleep on the ground. You can see the tail twitching.” The boatman lowered a makeshift anchor and the skiff drifted slowly back to a gap in the thick brush.
Everyone grabbed their cameras and binoculars, struggling to focus on the superbly camouflaged animal. Piercing the canopy, a beam of light highlighted the jaguar’s flank, as a patch of his golden rosettes rose and fell with each breath. The torpid feline raised its huge head, yawned, and fixed the boat with a long, disinterested stare, eventually resuming his interrupted siesta.
With the popularity of Pantanal jaguar safaris on the increase, more tourism outfits are planning a move into the region. But seasonal flooding (from March to April in the north of the region and from July to August in the south) helps to limit human influence as it makes travel of any kind across the region difficult. The challenge now is to manage tourism and to persuade more ranchers to tolerate the presence of these big cats on their land. Can jaguars, cattle and ranchers all live side by side?
“I’m highly optimistic about jaguar conservation in the Pantanal,” said Dr Howard Quigley, executive director of jaguar programs for Panthera, an American NGO that works to protect the world’s most endangered big cats. “We are pushing, as are others, to set in place frameworks of communication and standards of human use that we hope will maintain the natural beauty of the region for a long time to come. If we can do this, then cats and cowboys both have a future in this amazing place.”