Friday, 16 October 2015

Two days and three jaguars

15th October

It's always difficult, on a jaguar tour, to decide not to look for jaguars, but to go instead to look for hyacinth macaws. Lurking in your mind is inevitably the thought of the fabulous jaguars others are seeing. In part it pained me, and it pained members of my group, but this morning we went to Pousada Piquirí and spent two hours in awe of these tremendous blue birds.

Hyacinth macaws by Helen Pinchin

Hyacinth macaws by Naun Amable

On our return to the floating hotel I rushed to my colleagues Quique and Marcos, in a bid at damage management. What jaguars had they seen? How well? None. Not a single visitor had seen a jaguar all morning. The only jaguar seen was by the hospitality manager Xaviera on her trip to a meeting in Porto Jofre.


So in the afternoon we went in search of jaguars. And who should find jaguars? Why, those who went to Pousada Piquirí to look for hyacinth macaws found two young females on a beach by the Piquirí river. By the time the news came we ourselves had gone much too far in the wrong direction to turn around. We could not reach the jaguars in daylight. We would have to find our own. We did not; and we missed an excellent encounter with two most beautiful cats.

As we drew to our mooring at the floating hotel in the evening, just as I turned to tell our group what had happened, to break it to them gently that we had missed these two jaguars, our brilliant boatman João veered from the hotel and tore at full speed upriver, to the only beach visible from our rooms. There in the dusk, the nacunda and band-tailed nighthawks hawking the start of the night around him, lay panting a massive, handsome, youthful male jaguar: Adriano. He turned, he lolled his tongue, then silently he came to the shore, just metres from us, and drank. We stayed with him until dark and mosquitos drove us back; our day without jaguars saved by a motor's thrust and the lapping of a big pink tongue.

Adriano drinking in the dusk by Naun Amable

16th October

As we set out for the river on our last safari this morning, João again turned at speed and raced back to the Piquirí, upriver to where yesterday's slender females had been found again: the tenth and eleventh jaguars of our tour, the sixteenth and seventeenth of my Big Cat Quest. One of these gorgeous girls came to a beach from the forest and, like Adriano yesterday, she drank. Her frame, her gait, the graceful curve of her head and neck, were of a leopard, with only her big black rosettes marking her as a jaguar. She stopped to drink a second time, then lightly trod across the sand and into cover. We left the river, for Porto Jofre, for SouthWild Pantanal (where I write in the comfort of a cool room on a powerfully hot day), all of us elated, uplifted by what we had seen: not least, among many beautiful things, eleven spectacular spotted cats.

Mick Jaguar by Helen Pinchin

Cats seen in 2015
cheetah Acinonyx jubatus fearonii                3
serval Leptailurus serval serval                    3
leopard Panthera pardus suahelicus            2
lion Panthera leo nubica                              78
snow leopard Panthera uncia                       3
jungle cat Felis chaus                                   2
tiger Panthera tigris tigris                            13
leopard Panthera pardus fusca                    4
lion Panthera leo persica                              7
leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis           15
flat-headed cat Prionailurus planiceps          1
wildcat hybrid Felis silvestris grampia/catus  1
jaguar Panthera onca                                    17
puma Puma concolor                                    14

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