In search of South America’s Big Five

Jaguar, Maned Wolf, Giant River Otter, Brazilian Tapir & Giant


We achieved our goal to see South America’s Big Five plus we saw the rare rock- wielding, nut cracking capuchins, some ocelot, many capybara and hundreds of Yacaré caiman. Big mammals occupy a special place in human affections, especially large, predatory cats. So we were excited to see the Jaguar top on our list of the ‘Big Five’ mammals, but we were also intrigued to see the very rare Maned Wolf and the unusual, fascinating Giant Anteater and Brazilian Tapir. The final mammal on the list was the Giant River Otter. Our journey in search of South America’s ‘Big Five’ began in the 1.7 million acre Paranaíba River Headwaters National Park, to the north of the capital, Brasília, where a few Maned Wolves have become habituated to human presence and we were very fortunate to see 3 of them. Whilst in this area we also viewed, close up, a flock of about 20 Hyacinth Macaws, one of the world’s rarest parrots. We had great pleasure in seeing the rare activity of the rock wielding, nut cracking capuchins – one of only 3 known troops in the world to adopt this behaviour. Next we headed south-west to the world famous Pantanal wetland in search of the remainder of our ‘Big Five’. Stopping off in the north of the Pantanal we were fortunate to see the fascinatingly weird Giant Anteater and the unusual Brazilian Tapir. Driving further south for several hours along the Transpantaneira dirt track we then arrived at the Cuiaba River at Porto Jofre, a sleepy village at the end of the track. A 30 minute boat trip took us to the Flotel which would be our base whilst searching for the final two of our ‘Big Five’. Jaguars are notoriously shy and elusive, however, in the Pantanal region of Brazil, Jaguar numbers are probably higher than anywhere else on the continent so there is a chance of encountering one and greatly increases during the dry period between June and November which is the season when the Pantanal waters are receding, so concentrating both prey and predator come into this area. Fortunately, the same rivers along which we searched for Jaguars are also home to the world’s best populations of Giant River Otters. We also had the pleasure of seeing two small, cute ocelot. Throughout our journey we were treated to the sights of thousands of attractive, colourful birds. Following our successful hunt, we made our way to Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay before ending our trip in Rio De Janeiro.
Brazil South America’s ‘Big Five’
Brazil Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world. Rio De Janeiro was the capital until 1961 when the newly built Brasilia took over that role. Brazil is home to one of the richest biodiversity is in the world - a vast 75,000 sq mile area of rainforest, dry woodland, Savannah and wetland. 70% of the world’s flora and fauna can be found here.
The Pantanal The Pantanal is a vast expanse of wetlands which straddles the borders of Brazil and Paraguay and Bolivia and is the best place to spot wild animals in the whole of South America and also the best place to see wild mammals outside of Africa. It is home to 8 of South America’s 10 types of wildcat including the Jaguar.
Caipirinha We very much enjoyed Brazil’s national drink which is made with Cachaça (sugar cane liqueur), sugar, lime and lots of ice.  
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All images © Nova Fisher, novatravels.net