Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Call of the Jaguar - Day 7: “Amanha!”

Today we had to leave early at 6 am to reach the next stop -Peschero de Pirigara- five and a half hours away. It feels like I barely slept at all since we finished dinner at about 11.30 last night. What ever little I had to pack was done under torch light.

We traveled along first the Cuiaba River, and for a little while the Negrito River. I lost account the number of Caimans I saw along the way-there seemed to be one every ten meters along the river banks. By this calculation there must be 100 Caiman per kilometer and a total of 15000 Caimans for the 150 kms of distance to Porto Jofre where we would pick up another park employee . The Negrito River was the only one that the Giant Otters still survived in the 80s before their recovery.

We were late by an hour and we picked up Oelio, nicked named Fiao. Fiao is in his late fifties and is a jaguar trekking expert. In March when a Brazilian TV Channel came to do a documentary on the Pantanal, Fiao managed to get them film 20 jaguars in five days, including two matings in this ranch-fishing camp of a family -that we are heading now. All my hope is now staked on Fiao!

We arrived in our destination after a further two hours. The Keepers of the camp welcomed us into the house and it is fairly luxurious compared to others where I stayed up to now. The owners of the ranch do not come very often, probably like me and Stuart with our reserve in South Africa. Afternoon was leisure time and I was so glad that the weather kept up the nice trend continuously.

Fiao worked for 24 years for the parks services in law enforcement, after some time as field guide. One of his job was to go out into the rivers helping out people who got lost, which is easy I must say. He lives near Porto Jofre. He has two grown children-a boy and a girl.

This camp is near the State National Park where an American who owns a ranch baits the jaguars for his tourists, which has been very controversial. Although baiting is banned there is not enough law enforcement in the parks managed at the State level. Even yesterday his tourists saw five jaguars all at once.

Although I have information that in South Africa, some private game reserves bait leopards for tourists, and the very famous lodge Tiger Top in Nepal baits tigers as well, where the tourist dollars contribute to conservation, and does not alter the behaviour of wildlife themselves and baiting is not illegal, I personally do not think it is a bad thing. However, seeing five jaguars at once is very unusual and I begin to see the points made by Jose Augosto-Director of the Mato Grosso National Park. He argued yesterday that baiting alter the behaviours of jaguars. I was of the opinion, based on my understanding of the leopard and tiger cases, that it should only alter the behaviours of the animals in that particular territory, which is normally a male, and/or a female with her cubs. However, here in the Pantanal, I speculate that due to the mass body of water systems, the jaguars, though territorial, would have a harder time keeping their territorial scent markings, which in circumstances of dry land act as deterrence to other jaguars. Therefore, the territories of jaguars overlap a lot more, particularly in wet seasons. Baiting consequently could potentially alter the behaviours of many different individuals as the territorial markings are not as clear as in the cases of dry land animals.

Nonetheless, it certainly requires some careful monitoring of the baited jaguars in order to confirm this is indeed true. I will leave this subject to biologists such as Peter. In the mean time, my mind concentrates on seeing a wild jaguar!

In late afternoon, we were out on our first attempt. Besides Fiao, the keeper of the house nick named "Chu", joined us. Chu's brother nicknamed "Negritto" whom I met in early afternoon showed us some scars from a skirmish with a male jaguar in February. The Jaguar had taken one of the horses from the other house of the camp's owner nearby, and when Negritto approached him in the boat, the jaguar lounged at him on the boat. Negritto fend the jaguar off with the paddle and jumped into the water. Nonetheless, he was left a few claw marks on his hands. It was no fault of the jaguar-he was defending his food! Chu himself lost 50 heads of cattle to the jaguars in the first year he brought them here, with 20 of them taken within the first month.

No jaguar sightings, but we were rewarded with a tortoise struggling to swim to a bank in the river. Peter picked it up and brought it to the river bank..."AMANHA", meaning "tomorrow" as Fiao said when we stepped off the boat. I do hope Peter's pressure on him does not make him lose confidence in his abilities to "produce" the jaguar for me.

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