Wildlife Safari in the Pantanal: Getting Up close and personal with Jaguars
By Shannon Broderick
The term “Safari” tends to bring to mind khaki-clad individuals with binoculars around their neck, hunched on the top of a teetering Land Rover, searching the African plains for majestic lions.
“Africa definitely gets the ‘lion’s share of attention,” says Lauren Hefferon, Director and Founder of tour company Ciclismo Classico, who went to Africa on a wildlife tour in the fall of 2013.
But when planning your next trip to the Savannas of Botswana or Zimbabwe, why not consider Brazil’s Pantanal region instead? This large swath of wilderness is home to hundreds of species of animals–including the largest cat in the Americas, the jaguar.
“South America is a great destination for North Americans because it is easily accessible. It is an overnight flight each way and the same time zone so you can fly from NYC the night before and be on the Transpantaneira (the road that cross the Pantanara) in Brazil the next day,” explains Hefferon, whose company is running a wildlife photography tour through the Pantanal this fall that is full of exciting opportunities to explore the South American hidden gem.
“Guests will canoe the Rio Clarinho, lodge in authentic fazendas, hike the jungle with expert local guides, fish for piranha, photograph tons of exotic wildlife, and hopefully spot a jaguar.”
Big Cat Beginnings
Hefferon said that she got the idea for a safari to Brazil after a wildlife safari in Africa in the fall of 2013.
“I was completely enchanted with the experience of seeing animals up close and in the wild. I had never done a safari before and it reconnected me to my love of animals and inspired me to develop a your that would allow others to have a similar experience,” she explained.
During the trip, Hefferon had an encounter with another type of big cat–the majestic lion. After watching a lion stalk a gazelle, she realized that she wanted to “see more big cats!”
“The Pantanal is the only place in South America where you are almost guaranteed too see the Jaguar. After scouting a tour there and enjoying three up close viewings of the Jaguar, I was committed to making this tour work,” she adds.
“This is absolutely a nature and camera lover’s bucket list adventure.”
The World’s Last Great Wilderness
The Pantanal, which is largely located in Brazil, is considered to be one of “the world’s last great wildernesses.” A World Heritage Site and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a lush wetland that contains elements of the Amazon Rainforest, Brazilian Savannah, and Paraguayan Chaco. It’s home to an assortment of various animals, from mammals to hundreds of fish and bird species, making it a “bio-geographic mixing bowl.”
Ciclismo Classico’s photo tour takes travelers to both the northern and southern parts of Pantanal. During the trip, travelers are lodged in fazendas, which are four star eco-lodges, which are “extremely clean” with “fantastic” food.
Starting on the second day of the tour, photographers will get the chance to explore and capture the beauty of the Pantanal plains by hiking, walking, driving, horseback riding and canoeing through the wilderness. While the first few days are spent becoming acquainted with the flora and fauna of the Pantanal region, the tour heads into the Meetings of the Waters park on day six, where there is a “tremendous opportunity” to see Jaguars. Photographers spend two days searching for the best shot of the elusive jaguar, as well as capturing other exotic animals, including Howler monkeys, Giant Anteaters, Tapirs, caimans–possibly anacondas, as well!
Up Close and Personal
Leading the tour is Ossian Lindholm, a renowned nature photographer and Argentinian native who heads other Ciclismo Classico tours throughout the year.
Hefferon describes Lindholm as a “master photographer” who is also a “passionate naturalist and documentary film maker.”
“He is an expert teacher with years of photo workshop experience and knows how to masterfully engage his students,” she adds.
According to Hefferon, Ciclismo Classico welcomes “any level of skill” on the tour, from beginners to the more advanced amateur. Keen photographers will have many different opportunities to flex their skills, as special consideration is put towards planning each day to cater to photographers. Activities are planned around the best times for light, usually sunrise and sunset, and there are days set aside especially for photographing jaguars.
Pictures with a Purpose
For Hefferon, one of the most rewarding aspects of the tour is that the safaris offered in the Pantanal are helping to save jaguars from being hunted.
“A lucrative infrastructure of of tourism has developed around travelers who want to see and photograph the jaguar,” she explains.
“On one river outing, I counted 18 boats filled with photographers ‘shooting’ a sleeping jaguar. Each of the 180 people distributed in the 18 boats were paying $1000 a day for this experience. So one day equaled $180K of revenue and most of that goes back to the local people.”
“I am proud that my company can help the jaguar survive and thrive. The protection of the jaguar means that the environment and other animals will be protected as well,” she adds.
Shannon Broderick is an editorial assistant at GoNOMAD and aspiring photojournalist. She likes exploring back alleys, learning new languages, and spending hours at art museums. Check out her blog or follow her on instagram for more adventures.
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