Apex predator of the Americas, the jaguar is the largest cat on the continent. South American jaguars thrive in Brazil’s Pantanal region, a vast tropical wetland region that is a biodiversity hotspot. More or less wiped out from most of the continent due to habitat loss, the jaguar thrives in this habitat along with numerous other animals. This is one of the few remaining places in the world to spot them. The jaguars of this region are adapted to a fairly broad diet that challenges their skills in many ways. Uniquely, in the protected South Pantanal region around the Cuiaba River jaguars hunt caimans, a relative of the crocodile. Their ability to swim, their strength, powerful jaws and sharp teeth are all called into use to hunt these creatures. Besides caimans jaguars of the Pantanal regularly capybara, the area’s huge river rodents, as well as marsh deer, giant anteaters, and wild hogs among other animals and fish.
In order to track jaguars I travelled from our hotel in Porto Jofre in a motorboat along the length of three rivers, to one of the largest protected areas in the Pantanal. This area has a high density of jaguars, caimans as well as capybara. We spent 10-12 hours each day on the river searching for jaguars, caimans and other mammals.

The many channels and tributaries of the Cuiaba River are happy hunting grounds for South America’s jaguars. Unlike most other big cats jaguars are not averse to water. They are both good swimmers and runners, but they lack endurance. In this region they are often seen stalking the edges of rivers, sometimes hiding in the brush, to attack an animal coming to drink water, or a caiman too close to the shore.

The many channels and tributaries of the Cuiaba River are happy hunting grounds for South America’s jaguars. Unlike most other big cats jaguars are not averse to water. They are both good swimmers and runners, but they lack endurance. In this region they are often seen stalking the edges of rivers, sometimes hiding in the brush, to attack an animal coming to drink water, or a caiman too close to the shore.

Powerful and graceful, the jaguar of South America was highly respected by the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures. The word jaguar comes from the native Tupi-Guarani word yaguar, which translates to “the one who kills with one leap.” Today, Brazil’s Pantanal is the last remaining place on earth where these creatures can be easily seen in their natural habitat. This is the densest population of jaguars in the world, with an estimated 4,000 to 7,000 cats roaming the unique wetland region.

Individual jaguars can be recognised by the patterns or rosettes on their body. Its patterns do not permit hiding on the open beaches of the channels and rivers, so a jaguar will often try and stay in the undergrowth. It is adept at being extremely quiet as it stealthily stalks its favourite prey and suddenly launches an attack.

Individual jaguars can be recognised by the patterns or rosettes on their body. Its patterns do not permit hiding on the open beaches of the channels and rivers, so a jaguar will often try and stay in the undergrowth. It is adept at being extremely quiet as it stealthily stalks its favourite prey and suddenly launches an attack.

On the lookout for prey this jaguar climbs onto a convenient lookout point when it notices a dead caiman, probably killed by another jaguar upstream, floating down the river. Keeping a sharp eye on it until it comes nearby, it then pounces on the carcass in the water and drags it to shore to feast on.

Caimans of the area tend to come close to shore to bask in the sun around 9 or 10 a.m. Jaguars stalk them and ambush them, biting and piercing the caiman’s skull with their sharp canines in order to kill them. They will drag the caiman to shore and then into the undergrowth where it can rest and eat in peace.

Caimans of the area tend to come close to shore to bask in the sun around 9 or 10 a.m. Jaguars stalk them and ambush them, biting and piercing the caiman’s skull with their sharp canines in order to kill them. They will drag the caiman to shore and then into the undergrowth where it can rest and eat in peace.

Besides looking out for caimans from the banks of the river, jaguars will also enter the water to hunt for caimans hiding underwater or in the grass. It crosses rivers to hunt on the opposite bank, and will sometimes swim along slowly using its paws to check for caimans hiding in the swamp.

Jaguars of the Pantanal feast of 85 different animal species. However, they seem to particularly like caimans and capybara. A jaguar chases a capybara along the bank. But the capybara is a good diver and can leap into deep water. Though jaguars do jump into the water after their prey and can swim well, they cannot dive into deep sections of the water. And so, on this occasion the capybara lives on…

A solitary animal, the jaguar advertises its presence and protects its territory through markings which let other males know they shouldn’t encroach its home range. Here a male jaguar sprays urine to mark its territory. They also mark trees by scratching them with their claws. Male and female jaguars are usually only seen together during the mating period.

A solitary animal, the jaguar advertises its presence and protects its territory through markings which let other males know they shouldn’t encroach its home range. Here a male jaguar sprays urine to mark its territory. They also mark trees by scratching them with their claws. Male and female jaguars are usually only seen together during the mating period.

On a hot day jaguars can be seen resting on the edges of the river, half submerged to cool off. On days when it is not so hot, or there is enough shade on the banks, they can be spotted coming in for a long, cool drink.

On a hot day jaguars can be seen resting on the edges of the river, half submerged to cool off. On days when it is not so hot, or there is enough shade on the banks, they can be spotted coming in for a long, cool drink.

Jaguars are now listed as a “Near Threatened” species on the IUCN Red List, and the Amazon and Pantanal are its last strongholds. Although historically they are known to be nocturnal hunters, the jaguars of the Pantanal, given their unique diet, are hunters by day. This is why the Pantanal is the world’s best place to observe them in the wild.

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