Back from Brazil

Finally back after a fantastic three weeks in Brazil filming for the BBC. We were based in the Pantanal, a seasonally flooded wetland and one of the richest habitats I’ve ever worked in. Our brief was to try and film as much Jaguar behaviour as possible. 10 years ago even seeing a jaguar would have been have been nearly impossible, but a combination of circumstances has made observing jaguars in the wild  – in this part of Brazil – a realistic proposition.

Home sweet home - The Floatel; part prison ship, part social experiment.

We lived on a ‘floatel’ – a floating hotel that at times seemed part prison ship, part social experiment, but it was by far the best place to be based to film jaguars and the staff where absolutely fantastic. Guests tended to come and go, typically staying for a night or two, so we did feel slightly like inmates. Towards the end of the three weeks of constant bobbing around and getting in our little boat to head upriver each morning I started to feel rather like Captain Willard in Heart of Darkness (or Apocalypse Now for that matter), heading ever upstream to to deal with his inner demons, but I digress.

By 6am each day we’d be chugging upriver, scanning the banks for jaguar which is significantly easier said than done. If a jaguar doesn’t want to be seen, you are not going to see it. If it wasn’t for the unbelievably sharp eyes of Ginho our boatman and Marcos our guide Adam and I would have spotted a total of 3 jaguars. As it was we had a pretty amazing strike rate, some 30 plus sightings in three weeks – in other words we saw more jaguars in three weeks than I have seen foxes in 10 years of living in our village – and this is the cat that up until very recently nobody saw.

There were several days when we didn’t see any, maybe just tracks on a beach, or a fleeting glimpse as one vanished off into the undergrowth. Even when we did come across one that looked like it might be possible to film we would have to find a suitable place for me to get out and set up the tripod – sometimes in the water (pirañas, stingrays, caiman), sometimes climbing up the bank (tick infested grass, other jaguar) or ideally from a beach. So it was slow going, and often 1o hrs in a meltingly hot boat would yield a couple of frustratingly unsatisfactory shots.

There are two jaguars here, ironically for a spotted cat they are not easy to spot

Every now and again the hard work paid off and we were honoured to spend some time in the presence of these incredible animals. There really is something of the supernatural about them, they exude a sort of disinterested self-confidence that makes you feel rather insecure near them, and they have a strange quality through the camera lens where they seem to glow from the inside. One day we found a pair of cubs, probably around 18 months old, that hadn’t been seen before so we got to name them. There are now a two jaguars called Max & Felix on the loose in central Brazil. When I called home on the sat phone to tell the boys the news Max asked if the jaguars were well behaved.

Time stands still when you are with them

One bonus of spending so much time looking for jaguars was that you bump into all sorts of other fantastic creatures, the best of these were the Giant Otters. These fantastic beasts used to be even harder to see than jaguar but, again, the change of attitudes to wildlife in Brazil has meant that this species has made a significant recovery, and the two otter families we got to spend time with were completely unfazed by our presence. Giant Otters grow up to 2m long and seem to be one of those creatures stuck together out of spare parts, I could see bits of dog, seal, platypus and sea-monster in there, they also make the most fantastic noises when eating, I’m sure I actually heard one use proper English swear words a couple of times.

The Giant Otter - a contender for the greatest creature of all time

So all in all a really great trip, but it did feel that I’d been away from home for ever. Sat phone reception was exceptionally naff so communication with home was pretty much non existent which makes it hard to be away from Julie and the boys. While I was away Max’s Witney Under 8’s rugby team reached the finals of the county tag championship which was a really great achievement, they are a fantastic bunch of kids and Julie said they played brilliantly on the day.

Witney U8's - ready to unleash hell

Max (nearest the camera) as another Witney move unfolds ...