Monday, 6 August 2007

Call of the Jaguar - Day 5: “Giant Otters of the Acurizal”

Last night saw the arrival of the Park's Director Jose Augusto and another park employee, who normally spend a week per month here. The employee immediately embarked on cooking and the smell of the meat was so appetizing that I could not refuse their hospitality.

The Park is an UN World Heritage site but I hear of the difficulties of obtaining any UNESCO funding to improve the infrastructures. I am not surprised. Like many big NGOs in conservation, they seem not interested in field results but only in meetings, conferences, workshops, seminars, where they can fly their staff to exotic locations in style. This is an aspect that upsets me so much, thinking those retirees saving up whatever they have to donate to these big NGOs who are actually not spending the donated funding on what the donors thought the NGOs should be spending on. Coming from private sector and doing what I do for passion, I found the behaviours of most of the big NGOs such as WWF and IFAW unacceptable. What is worse, they do not hesitate to criticize, and even attack projects that are actually doing something to help wildlife, such as that of ours.

A beautiful day again and we set off to visit the ranch Acurizal around 9.30am and the ride was about an hour. Acurizal is where Peter started his jaguar research career exactly 30 years ago. It was cattle ranch then but was acquired in 1997 by a local NGO "Eco-Tropicale" which bought it with the money donated by the Nature Conservancy-one of the few big NGOs that that are actually doing something concrete instead of lip-servicing to conservation.

The area is 14000 hectares and a couple Claudio and Monica and a young man look after the place. After lunch we set off in the tractor to install camera traps. Claudio has identified the paw prints of a puma, tapir and white lipped peccary (a kind of wild pig) in the little inland trail. This is where both the territory of jaguars and pumas cross due to both the relative dry areas and the water. Puma is also called Mountain lions indicting its preferred habitat whereas jaguars just love the water.

Mosquitoes were attacking us but Peter assured us this is nothing compared to summer. After the three camera traps were laid on the path, we went out on the river to set the last one for the day. The sun is setting and the water was calm as a mirror. We parked the boat at a potential site and Claudio went on the river bank to examine the location. Just when I turned my head around trying to film the sunset, I saw the heads of some animals sticking out from water: "Giant Otters"! I screamed. Having looked at all the video clips and photos of Giant Otters taken by Caroline and Peter, I instinctively called out. Giant Otters almost went extinct here in the Pantanal and started coming back from mid 80s to mid 90s. The Otters seemed to be defending their territories and made this aggression sound towards us. Some of them stuck their heads out in protest. But they quickly dispersed and we could see their trails all over the bay.

Peter said "I consider this as lucky as sighting the jaguars". Well it certainly made my day!