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About the fires in the Pantanal

I’m sure you’ve heard in the media that the Pantanal is burning, animals are dying and so on. Every year during the dry season some parts of the Pantanal burn, it’s a normal occurence. Some years are drier and thus the fires are larger and more widespread, in other years they are restricted to small areas. This year has been very dry, with fires even during the wet season here and there. Now, at the peak of the dry season, the fires seem to be everywhere and sensationalistic media and fake news makes it believe that it’s consuming the entire Pantanal. That’s not true. Yes the fires are bad and worst than other years for a number of reasons I will cover on this long post, but fires of this magnitude are not totally new to the Pantanal. Old locals mention a worst one in 1967, on an exceptionally dry year. This year’s fires are consuming significant areas and surely killing a huge number of small animals and some larger animals too, like Tapirs, Deers and even Jaguars. But it’s not consuming the entire Pantanal, not even close to that as you can see on the satellite images below.

The map above depicts the situation of a few days ago (Sept. 14th). I’ve added the information of where North and South Pantanal are. As you can see there are relatively few fire spots in South Pantanal, but many more in the North. Last year was the inverse situation.

The map above depicts the situation of a few days ago (Sept. 14th). I’ve added the information of where North and South Pantanal are. As you can see there are relatively few fire spots in South Pantanal, but many more in the North. Last year was the inverse situation.

 

Now we zoom in to North Pantanal, at the area North of Porto Jofre, where we do most of our Jaguar observations. I have added a few annotations that people who have been there will surely recognize the names. The blue area indicates roughly where most Jaguars are seen. We can notice that the fires are right now mostly consuming an area West and North of it, although truth be told it has burned significant areas inside the blue area a few days ago as well. Mostly it burned low vegetation that recovers very quickly.

Now we zoom in to North Pantanal, at the area North of Porto Jofre, where we do most of our Jaguar observations. I have added a few annotations that people who have been there will surely recognize the names. The blue area indicates roughly where most Jaguars are seen. We can notice that the fires are right now mostly consuming an area West and North of it, although truth be told it has burned significant areas inside the blue area a few days ago as well. Mostly it burned low vegetation that recovers very quickly.

What started the fires? Almost all of the fires during the dry season are started by men, intentionally or not. Very few fires, mostly at the end of the dry season, are started naturally by lighting strikes, but those are often short-lived due to the incoming rains. So, if they started by men, who did it? And why? That’s the big question, surely some of the fires were started by ranchers wanting to increase their pastureland, an illegal practice but with little government enforcement (maybe even with a bit of indirect incentives by recent loosening of fiscalizations?). These fires may actually have started far away from the region as well, and carried on along the level terrain by the strong winds common at this time of the year.  Some other fires may have started by accident/carelessness on camp fires or even by cigarette butts. Another hypothesis is that some fires were intentionally started by individuals with political reasons. This is a controversial hypothesis but one that must be considered in present times. There are reports from various sources of wooden bridges along the Transpantaneira burning out of nowhere, when no areas near it were burning at all, and those fires eventually spread to the surrounding vegetation.

Anyway, what can be done now? Frankly, not much. A lot of brave people are volunteering and I specially thank those that are comitted to save the bridges that give us access to Porto Jofre and the veterinarians and sanctuaries that are receiving and taking care of the animals in trouble. The fires themselves are very difficult if not impossible to stop as they are often in areas very far from roads or any other means of access, with dense brushy vegetation and they spread to new areas ahead very fast due to the winds. The government is there now with people and equipment, but they too don’t have the means to stop those fires either. I don’t think anyone has. The private sector, namely associations, lodge owners and guides are also working and getting equipment, with the important help of donations from individuals around the world. We are specially thankful to you. But in truth much is done before the fires even start, as a precaution.

Talking about precaution, one factor may have aggravated the situation. In the past the Pantanal used to receive a bit more scattered rains during the dry season, but now this is not happening at the same frequency due to the deforestation of the habitats surrounding the Pantanal, namely the Cerrado and the southern borders of Amazonia. Now people and cattle has been present in the Pantanal for centuries. In this new ecological reality the cattle had an important function (despite impacts I won’t cover here), of consuming excess dry vegetation growth from pastureland. However in the past decades with more competitive markets the cattle is slowly receding from the Pantanal towards more lucrative areas outside of it, so there’s fewer cattle to consume the accumulation of dry vegetation, this allied with drier weather conditions and human activity, is a time bomb waiting to be ignited.

What precautionary measures we can take to avoid such fires in the future? The formation of permanent fire brigades in North and South Pantanal, with constant work inside farms and nature reserves to strategically create firebreaks and the augmentation of fiscalization against illegal fires. Brazil has the satellite technology to do this fiscalization, it’s a matter of really enforcing it and for this I think international pressure is important. Another important precautionary measure is tourism, it’s not a coincidence that the worst fire in many decades happened exactly in a year without tourism in North Pantanal due to Covid-19. Your travel to the Pantanal directly helps conserve the habitat and the wildlife in it.

We can learn a lot with this year’s terrible fires though. First, that the Pantanal regenerates very quickly. In a few days we should start to see the first rain showers of the incoming wet season and that should put down most of the fires. We know by past experience that the Pantanal is quite resilient to fires and by next year things should be green and vibrant again. In fact the low vegetation areas should be even prettier.

It’s a sad year in many aspects for the Pantanal, but it’s not the end of it. We are receiving daily reports of multiple Jaguar encounters along the rivers, including cubs. Nature is resilient and will survive this. Humanity always learn from mistakes, I’m positive that this years events will change for the good side a lot of things and, hopefully, we will be able to avoid such disasters in the future.

 

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Bird Identification Guide

We are proud to announce the release of our very own Bird Identification Guide for the Pantanal. The first volume covers the non-passerine birds we often find during our tours to South and North Pantanal. We trust this tool will be helpful to our guests when trying to ID the myriad of birds photographed during our tours. The download is FREE, so go ahead and get your PDF now by clicking here.

This still a work in progress and if you would like to contribute with missing photos please send me an e-mail!

Birds of the Pantanal Volume 1   Guia-Pag-24

Guia-Pag-39   Guia-Pag-32

Join me in the Pantanal for the best photo tours. Sign up my newsletter on my website to be the first to know about the 2019 Complete Pantanal Tour at a special price.

New video with 2019 highlights!

Make sure to check our new video with some of the 2019 highlights. This was filmed by me and Larissa. Please watch it in full HD on the link below:

Hand baggage policies in Brazil

Hand baggage policies update

I have completed a couple trips to the Pantanal on this new 2019 season and thought it would be nice to post an update on the “new” hand baggage policies, posted earlier on this blog.

Contrary to what was said in the media, on none of these trips no one checked the weight or the measurements of my bags, although they were under the new limits, so I wasn’t nervous about that. I didn’t see any other people having their bags weighted either. It feels to me that they will notice much more a bag well over the size and obviously extremelly heavy, otherwise you should be fine, even if you are slightly above the weight limit.

Here’s what I was carrying as hand baggage on these flights:

Hand baggage policies in Brazil

One Lowepro Flipside 400AW II backpack with the following contents, weighting in right under the 10 kg limit:

  • One DSLR camera body and a 300mm f/2.8
  • 24-70mm lens
  • Teleconverter
  • SB-910 speedlight
  • 10×42 binocular
  • 14″ notebook
  • Bluetooth speaker
  • Two Pocket Wizard remote controls
  • Miscellaneous items like spare batteries, small flashlight, memory cards, etc.

Hand baggage policies in Brazil

I was also carrying a second smaller side bag, pictured above, with a small pocket camera, chargers, backup portable hard drive, cables, two handset radios, etc. This side bag could also be used to carry, for example, a second camera body and/or another lens. This bag was weighting approximately 3 kg.

On my main bag I was carrying my clothes, personal items, a tripod, tripod ball head, other chargers, etc. My main bag weighted around 15 kg.

I hope this clarifies the situation and helps you when choosing what to bring and how. As always, contact me if you have doubts and want my opinion.

 

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Good news regarding tourist visa to Brazil

The Brazilian government has issued a decree that says that starting in June 17, citizens from the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia no long need a tourist visa to enter Brazil. All that is needed is a valid passport. They now join citizens from other parts of the world who already had the same benefit, like all of Europe, other South American countries, Mexico, Central American countries, New Zealand and some others.

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Pantanal clothing checklist

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One of the main doubts of my first-time clients for a trip to the Pantanal is which clothes and equipment to bring. Most bring a whole lot more than what is needed, and a lot of things just go completely unused during the trip. So I will make 2 blog posts with a checklist of what I recommend. Travelling light is always more comfortable and important for our chartered flights. So here are my recommendations based on my longest itinerary, the Complete Pantanal Tour with the optional extension to the Atlantic Rainforest:

  • SHIRTS

Today I have a clear preference for the thin quick dry t-shirts used originally for sports but becoming more and more popular for outdoor use. They are very light and breathable, sometimes it feels like you are not wearing a shirt at all, and you can pack quite a bunch without adding any considerable weight or space to your bag. Plus they dry very fast so it’s quick to wash them. Get the long-sleeved ones and avoid very bright colors.  Since they are so light you can pack around 7 or 8 of them.

t-shirt

It’s also good to bring 2 quick dry shirts of the kind pictured below, and carry this in your camera bag somewhere during our field trips. Here’s the explanation: although the t-shirts recommended above are great they have one drawback – because they are so thin and tend to have a tight fit mosquitoes sometimes can bite through them. During our Pantanal trips in the dry season mosquitoes tend to be a problem only in late afternoon, at other times they are largely absent. When they become a nuisance just pull over this thicker layer and you will be fine. For constant day-to-day use I find this kind of shirt much warmer though.

shirt

  • JACKET AND FLEECE

Although the Pantanal is generally regarded as a warm place, it can get quite cold during cold fronts, with temperatures even dropping to around 10ºC some mornings! This is specially true for early season trips, so early morning boat rides can get really chilly! Pack 1 fleece and 1 good insulated jacket or warm windbreaker. For later season trips (mid-September and onwards) you might prefer a lighter windbreaker plus a fleece, if not coming to the Atlantic Rainforest as well.

fleece jacket

  • RAIN JACKET

Early dry season, from June to early September, rains are usually completely absent from the Pantanal. In any case, you might want to bring 1 light rain jacket in any time of the year. This is specially recommended for the Atlantic Rainforest, where we will find a much more wet weather. If your warm jacket mentioned above is water resistant than you should be fine with just that.

rain jacket

  • PANTS

Any good quality light weight pants will do. Bring 2 or 3.

pants

  • SHORTS

During the heat of the day and/or in our hotels you might want to wear a shorts. Bring 1 or 2.

shorts

  • SHOES

We won’t be doing any difficult trails during the trip, so most people will do perfectly fine with a normal mid hiking boots. Prefer water resistant ones. If possible travel wearing it, so it won’t weight on your bag. Also bring 1 lighter shoe to use in the hotel or even during our boat rides or even a sandal or flip, which is great to wear at lunch break. You can also wear a sandal in the boat, but then we reccommend to bring a pair of socks along for when mosquitoes show up.

boot   shoe  sandal

  • HATS

A regular light weight cap is the most common. Bring 2 in case you loose one. Some people prefer a booney, which offers more sun protection.

cap  booney

  • GAITER AND BEANIE

A light neck gaiter is a must have, as it offers great protection from the sun, covering most of the face and neck, bring 2. Also bring 1 wool or fleece beanie, for the chilly early morning boat rides.

gaiter  beanie

  • SUN GLOVES

Bring 1 pair of sun gloves, specially for lighter skin.

gloves

 

And this is what I recommend for field use during my Pantanal trips. On the next post we will talk about photo equipment, stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

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Pantanal: Giant Otters paradise

The Pantanal is famous for its Jaguar sightings, and rightfully so, but another great animal is also easy to photograph there, and offer (much) better opportunities than anywhere else in its range: the Giant Otter.

Giant Otter

Giant Otter feeding on a Pike Cichlid. This one is from the Rio Negro of South Pantanal.

In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s the Giant Otter was highly endangered due to poaching for the pelt market. It was, in fact, extinguished from most of its range. It persists in many areas of the Amazon and elsewhere, with strongholds in reserves and now, specially, in the Pantanal. Here they have grown used to people and boats, and will usually allow a very close approach.

It is aptly named, as it is the largest member of the Mustelidae family, comprising all of the otters and weasels. They reach 1.7m (5.6ft) in lenght and feed almost exclusively on fish, with the occasional crab here and there, or even baby caimans! Atypical of mustelids, the Giant Otter is a social species, and we often see them in family groups of 6 or more. It’s very fun to photograph them when they are hunting and feeding or playing in the water in front of their dens.

Giant Otter

Jaguar population on the rise

Jaguars on the rise!

I’m starting again the blog on my website. I pretend to add mostly day-by-day photo trip reports here, but eventually some other content as well. So I’ll start on a positive note: on March the Wildlife Conservation Society released a statement saying that, “Jaguar populations have grown at an average annual rate of nearly 8 percent across field sites where the WCS works in Latin America from 2002 to 2016. In the sites analyzed, which include areas throughout Central and South America, the jaguar population either held steady or expanded, with a 3-fold increase in jaguar density in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park alone.

This is great news and something that I have been saying for a few years, that jaguar populations are on the rise in a number of places, specially the Pantanal, where they are starting to be regularly seen in many areas, even places that no jaguars have been sighted for several years!

I think this is a result of a new culture emerging from younger generations of cattle ranchers, who can better appreciate nature and wildlife for what it is, so the hunting pressure on jaguars as retaliation to livestock kills is getting lighter. Also, ecotourism is a strong driving force in the Pantanal – your dollars spent on photo tours will pay people whose jobs depend on a healthy population of these cats.

Click here for the original WCS article.

Jaguar population on the rise