The ‘Big Twelve’ of the Pantanal

Toco toucan, Pantanal

In the untamed realms of wilderness in the Pantanal, wildlife thrives in all its grandeur and diversity. We bring you a list of the top dozen animals. Here’s the ‘Big Twelve’ of the Pantanal!

12. Red-and-green macaw

 

Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

The red-and-green macaw is a mostly-red macaw that can attain a body length of three feet! Known to mate for life, it is normally found in pairs or flocks of several pairs. Brilliantly colourful, it is also a delight to photograph. Its conspicuous, iridescent feathers dazzle against the backdrop of the forest, a spectacle even more heightened in intensity when it’s airborne.

11. Hyacinth macaw

 

Hyacinth macaws, Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

The red-and-green macaw may be high on vividness but the hyacinth macaw is the planet’s largest macaw and flying parrot (by body length). Almost entirely deep-blue with a couple of strokes of yellow, this parrot has a very strong beak, no nut is too hard to crack for the hyacinth macaw! Habitat loss and trapping for pet trade have left the hyacinth macaw classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, but the Pantanal is a fabulous place to see and photograph it.

10. Toco toucan

 

Toco toucan, Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

So far as spectacle goes, the macaw duo must give way to the toco toucan, the largest of the absurdly stunning toucan family. With striking black-and-white plumage, it uses its enormous and vibrant bill to   feed on fruit, insects, and small reptiles, birds and their eggs. Research has also shown that bill can modify blood flow and thereby regulate heat distribution in the bird! Thus, the toco toucan uses its bill as a thermal radiator responsible for between 30 and 60% of heat loss.

9. Ocelot

 

Ocelot, Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

The ocelot, also known dwarf leopard, is a small, wild, gorgeous cat that thrives in South America and is one of the chief attractions in south Pantanal’s farms we visit during our Photo Tour. The ocelot is nocturnal and begins its activities during twilight. On cloudy or rainy days though, it can be spotted even during the day. It is solitary and preys on armadillos, rabbits, rodents, opossums, insects, reptiles, fish and small birds.

8. Jabiru stork

 

Jabiru stork, Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

The jabiru is a most common large stork found in the Pantanal – the tallest flying bird in South America and Central America. Jabiru means ‘swollen neck’ in a Tupi-Guarani language. It has a white body and topped with a black, featherless neck that has a red stretchable pouch at the base. Even though it looks heavy while it is on the ground, the jabiru is a graceful and powerful flier. It mainly feeds mainly on fish, amphibians and molluscs, and is known to detect its prey more through tactile sensation as compared to using its vision.

7. Capybara

 

Capybara, Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

The capybara is the largest rodent in the world. Also known as the chigüire, the capybara lives in savannahs, dense forests as well as swamps, marshes, lakes, ponds and rivers. If you are lucky, you will see how social this species of rodents is: it lives in groups of 10-20 individuals usually, and sometimes can be seen in a group of 100! The capybara is a semiaquatic mammal and is a relative of the guinea pig. It is herbivorous and feeds on grasses and aquatic plants. It is the favourite prey of jaguars, caimans, eagles, pumas and also ocelots. The capybara is hunted by humans as the grease from its thick skin is used in the pharmaceutical industry.

 

6. Caiman

 

Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

A favourite prey of the jaguar, this scaly-skinned, fairly nocturnal alligatorid mainly inhabits marshes and swamps, and mangrove rivers and lakes. There are six species of caiman found in Central and Southern America, and the one featured here is the yacari, of which some 10 million individuals are known to exist in the Pantanal itself! It feeds chiefly on fish, birds, and small mammals and reptiles. During the day, the caiman can be found basking in the sun on mudflats or in muddy forest streams.

5. Giant otter

Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

This social, diurnal, territorial carnivorous mammal is the longest of the weasel family, and the noisiest  of all the otters. An endangered species, the giant otter is a victim of hunting (for its velvety skin) and habitat degradation. The giant otter feeds on fish, turtles, crabs, snakes and even small caimans, and is not hunted by any predators other than humans. If you ever catch one with its prey, observe how it grasps it in its forepaws and starts eating almost immediately, beginning right at the head!

4. Giant anteater

 

Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

This bizarrely charismatic, terrestrial and solitary mammal, with its elongated tube-shaped snout and a tongue that it can extend to a length greater than its head, and can effortlessly raid and tear open ant and termite mounds using its large, curved foreclaws, is called the giant anteater. Also known as the ‘antbear’, with dense and long brown fur covering its body, it has poor eyesight, but its sense of smell is so exceptional that it uses it for defense, foraging and feeding. The tongue of this wild creature, with tiny hooks called filiform papillae, moves very fast, flicking about 150 times per minute!

3. Tapir

With its short but prehensile nose trunk, a shape similar to that of a pig, and a short coat that can be reddish brown, grey or almost black, the tapir is a close relative of the odd-toed ungulates. It exhibits the flehmen response often – raising its snout and showing its teeth to identify scents. This nocturnal mammal lives mainly in dryland forests, and spends quite a lot of time in and under water, feeding mostly on soft vegetation. It also helps the tapir ward off heat and take refuge from its predators like jaguars and anacondas. It has monocular vision but has found a place in diverse mythologies, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean, and in the folklore of the latter two, is known to feed on people’s nightmares!

2. Yellow anaconda

 

Yellow anaconda, Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

Also called the Paraguayan anaconda, the yellow anaconda is one of the largest snakes in the world. Its habitat is mainly aquatic – marshes, swamps and bushy banks of streams and slow-flowing rivers. It feeds mainly on wading birds, fish, turtles, lizards, caimans and other small mammals. Completely non-venomous like all pythons and boas, it kills its prey by constriction. And because its behaviour is unpredictable, it is considered somewhat dangerous to humans, although it’s entirely debatable who is dangerous to whom, since it’s hunted by humans for its golden-yellow skin, which is overlaid with a series of black and dark brown spots and streaks and saddles and blotches.

1. Jaguar

 

Jaguar in the Pantanal

© Jayanth Sharma

 

The ‘tiger of the Americas’, the world’s third largest feline (after the tiger and the lion), the elusive jaguar is has a large, robust skull, which, pound to pound, houses the strongest bite of all cats. Equally adept at tree-climbing and swimming and hunting in water, the jaguar often kills by sinking its canines into its quarry’s skull. Although the jaguar resembles the leopard with bigger rosettes than the latter, its behaviour is closer to that of the tiger. This well-muscled phantom can take virtually any terrestrial or riparian for prey, and its extraordinary elegance has inspired many of modern man’s creations! Read more about the jaguar here.

While these big twelve are the main wildlife attraction while you are in the Pantanal, there are several other avian and mammalian wonders to overwhelm you with their unique beauty. Sign up for our Pantanal Wildlife Photography Tour and treat yourself to the exotic beauty of the South American wildlings now!

Categories: Articles, Featured, Nature, Photography, Travel
Sourabha Rao

Sourabha is a staff writer at Toehold who dexterously gives verbal form to the inexpressible, and with her passion for travel, weaves immersive stories that transcend space and dissolve time.

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