Shaggy Carpets of the Pantanal
All our Brazil adventure plans were thrown out the window while we focussed our efforts on finding a cure for Beloved’s leishmaniasis, and instead made our way straight to Curitiba where we had some help waiting . We bussed across the border from Puerto Maldonado, Peru, to Rio Branco, Brazil. Well actually it was one bus and three taxis that were impressively coordinated. We had 24 hours in Rio Branco before our flights to Curitiba so we visited a small little forest reserve Parque Ambiental Chico Mendes on the outskirts of the city. There were more Ameivas than you could poke a stick at, scurrying all along the edge of the rainforest path. We looped around the reserve and then back where it meets parkland, and found something I’d been searching for in Manu – a troupe of Monk sakis (Pithecia monachus). Monk sakis are grizly monkeys with fur so thick – particularly around their tails – that you’d think they’d be better suited to the artic than the tropical Amazon rainforest. We’d been told they are hard to see because they sit so still – which must be true of the Manu contingent because we weren’t able to find them; but the Chico Mendes Monk sakis couldn’t sit still, they kept running through the branches from tree to tree and back into the deeper forest.
Sorting out a leishmaniasis cure has been an epic adventure in itself, but an amazing story of generosity that I’ll write about in another post. But we found a small window of opportunity to go on a small Brazilian adventure, so we hastily booked half a dozen flights to get us to (and from) my most coveted location, the Pantanal. We arranged a visit to a farm where we hoped to go wildlife viewing, to stay at a lodge called Pousada Aguape.
After a long day of flight delays, missed connections and further delays, we finally made it to Campo Grande where we were picked up from the airport by our driver, Joel. Joel took us the 3 hour journey, 2 hours along the bitumen, and then a final hour along a dirt road. We were excited by the possibility of wildlife viewing, and were craning our necks to try to spot animals as we hurtled down the main highway. “A Seriema!” Beloved calls out. Damn, missed it! A bit further along he pipes up: “A Rhea! I just saw a Rhea!” Now, Rheas were the top of my Pantanal bucket list, so I was starting to get pissed. “HYACINTH MACAWS!!” He cries. “DAMMIT will you stop seeing cool things that I can’t???” I very uncharitably request.
We turned onto the dirt road towards our destination, and the drive became necessarily slower.
“RHEAS!! Stop, please por favour pare pare stop!” I asked the driver who was probably wondering what the hell was up with these gringoes. He stopped and we lept out to see three rheas in a paddock beside the road. They really looked like small emus, very quirky and very fantastic. We requested another stop for our long suffering driver (who’d been waiting for us all day with our various delays) when I saw some weird stripey tails by the side of the road – coatis! A family with some young’uns, super cute. We were almost to Pousada Aguape when a pair of Hyacinth macaws flew past. Incredible – they are a stunning bird with the seamless blue plumage and yellow skin around the eyes and bill. We hadn’t even arrived yet and we’d already seen some of the most exciting species we’d hoped to see. We soon realised that they were not uncommon – we saw many more rheas, in twos and threes and fours and even one flock (is a group of flightless birds a flock?) of five. Arriving at Pousada Aguape we found a group of hyacinth macaws at a feeding table, and hyacinth macaws in the palm trees above the buildings. Wow.
There are parrots everywhere at Pousada Aguape: blue-faced parrots in the mango trees that have a call so very similar to the yellow crowned parrots we became familiar with at Tambopata. Nanday parakeets zooming about in small flocks, and trees full of the small Golden-chevroned parakeet (yeah, that’s really its English name!). As soon as we’d been shown our room we dumped our gear, grabbed our binos and explored the grounds. So many ibis paroled the front swampy paddock – green ibis, buff-necked ibis and plumbeous ibis. There were southern caracaras, southern lapwings and wattled jacanas also skulking in the grass. Later we found Jabiru and Southern screamers in the same spot.
We dragged ourselves away for dinner, and while we were finishing off the main course, a fellow guest pointed towards the garden and mentioned: “I think that might be an armadillo”. A small rotund banded chap – a yellow armadillo (Euphractus sexcinctus) was indeed snuffling its way through the garden, and seemed less than impressed when we ran over for a closer look. More commotion came from the dining area when the staff were reluctant to walk over to where the food was served – because of the snake that had ventured across the floor to hide in the big tree stump that made up the support post for the bench. The staff seemed pretty tolerant of these nutty Australian visitors, so with the help of the fellow guests, we lifted the heavy wood of the bench and tipped back the post so Beloved could gently scoop out the snake with a stick. With careful inspection, Beloved proclaimed it not to be dangerous, and instead was actually the colubrid Leptodeira annulata that was impressively similar to a viper. Despite it being non-venomous, the staff were very happy for us to find it a different home.
Our first full day in the Pantanal was equally rewarding. On an early morning boat ride along the nearby river we found a troupe of black howler monkeys (Alouatta caraya) – named for the male colouring, as the female is actually grey. We saw one grey female with a small baby clinging to her front, and three males foraging in the trees behind. The two best birds of the day (aside from the Hyacinth macaw, that is, because who could compete?) were the white woodpecker, with the kooky yellow eye ring, and the Seriema that I finally got to see – wandering along in the long grass with a set of ridiculous feathers sticking up from the start of its bill. The best mammals of the day were the numerous Capybaras (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) in the grass and splashing about in the ponds, the three baby nine-banded armadillos crossing the path, the most amazing sighting of a Greater anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) we’ve ever had (which we followed on foot for about half an hour while it snuffled through the grass), and the two Crab-eating foxes (Cerdocyon thous) that were running about, playing and biting each other on the track as I wandered home after spotlighting. And those are just the highlights!
Day 3 was also particularly noteworthy. It was an auspicious start, as pulling on my runners first thing in the morning I realised my finger was poking something squishy. Being still three-quarters asleep, I dropped my shoe in surprise. On closer inspection, a fat cane toad (Rhinella marina – same species as in Australia, but its native here!) had made my runner its home for the night. I evicted the toad, and when I tried to pull on my other shoe, my foot wouldn’t fit in that one either – it also had a toad!
After breakfast we headed down to the nearest oxbow lake with our guide Roseno for a morning’s kayak. When we reached the water, a curious head emerged from the water – giant river otters! Three other heads periscoped up in turn, making a snorting sound – not unlike a horse snorting. We’d seen them before, but they just never get old. We jumped into the kayaks and paddled out, when Beloved cursed. Turns out he’d left his camera battery in its charger back in our room. Roseno kindly offered to drive him back to base for him to collect the battery, so I decided to wait behind and do a spot of bird watching back up the bank in the meantime. There was a group of five rheas poking about to my left – nice! And to my right – what is that funny shaggy piece of carpet … another giant anteater!
This must be giant anteater heaven, as it was our fifth individual in three days. I quietly pushed through the long grass to get a bit closer for a better look, and stood still watching it snuffle about feeding. It either didn’t notice I was there, or was completely unconcerned, because it wandered in my direction, and I was still watching it when Beloved and Roseno returned. Needless to say, I wasn’t overly sad about the delay due to the forgotten camera battery! The wildlife viewing has been fantastic and I’m so glad we’ve squeezed in a wildlife adventure despite ‘medical tourism’ interlude.
This blog entry has been kindly provided with permission by Dr. April Reside, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the University of Queensland.
Please check out her blog Conservation on the Fly for more fascinating stories:
Please also follow Dr. Reside on Twitter https://twitter.com/april_reside
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