Within an hour of arriving at the Fazenda last night, we took a short boat ride around the lodge, and not only did we see two families of capybara, but also a pair of adult hyacinth macaws, rheas and four giant river otters! Add that to the capybaras I saw while landing, and we have definitely stumbled into a wildlife watchers' paradise.
This morning, after an early breakfast, we were treated to a horseback tour of some of the 7,700 hectare Fazenda. It was overcast, not too hot or buggy yet, and it was an excellent ride. Patrick Johnston, editor of Conservation International's quarterly news publication and annual report, joined the expedition to research articles for CI publications and to photograph the people and regions documented in those stories. We returned in plenty of time for lunch and met up again at 3:30 pm for another tour by a large jeep.
Tasso, the Fazenda manager, and Mariza, our hostess and coordinator for the environmental education activities within the Corridor program in the Pantanal, took along the radio tracking antennae on the jeep trip so we could periodically stop and try to find radio-collared giant anteaters.
Each time Tasso held the antennae up high, while Mariza dialed in the frequency. There were however, no responding beeps to indicate a nearby transmitter. As Mariza said, "No anteaters are home today."
TOOLS: Learn more about the technology used for tracking and research
Looking around for wildlife, Mariza mentions that we might see "hobbits." This is the second time we've been told this (earlier Erika and Lysa both insisted that there were hobbits that ran onto the road sometimes where we were driving). Jeff and I both assumed that we must have misheard, but once again they are mentioned. After questioning Mariza, we discover that in Portuguese, "r" is pronounced like an English "h" – so therefore, "hobbits" are actually "rabbits." This is comforting since we were both somewhat dubious about everyone's insistence that there are hairy-footed little Tolkien creatures running around Brazil.
||"There, no more than 25 feet away, is a big beautiful tamanduá bandeira."|
While driving around, we run into a jeep filled with Earthwatch volunteers. Earthwatch is a not-for-profit program that allows non-scientists the opportunity to assist in on-going environmental field projects around the globe. The Earthwatch volunteer team at the Fazenda right now is a special one – comprised entirely of educators from Brazil and the United States, and funded by a grant from Ford Motor Company.
The Fazenda hosts Earthwatch programs and other wildlife and environmental research projects year-round. This includes such projects as: radio-collaring giant anteaters; studying bird populations; conducting mammal surveys; evaluating the impact of bee-keeping operations; analyzing resident fruit-bearing plants and seed dispersal strategies; measuring aquatic ecosystem health; testing the Pantanal horse population for anemia and much more.
The studies are meant to produce information vital to regional conservation strategies, or offer opportunities to sustainably improve economic conditions in the area. The Fazenda is able to host these efforts via a research center that is attached to the main building – it includes sleeping facilities for researchers and volunteers, a classroom and a laboratory.
We continue driving and pretend to be real wildlife photographers by putting our lives on the line for a shot. Or at least we put our feet close by sharp little teeth. I come within five feet of a young caiman who finally decided that he had had enough and slithers away. We are beginning to feel the same way, and start to head home around 6 pm. After bouncing up and down and all around in this jeep for the last couple of hours, dodging bugs and getting more sunburned by the minute, I see a few heads start to nod off.
All the sudden I hear, "Anteater!"
I grab the video camera and look to my right. There, no more than 25 feet away, is a big beautiful "tamanduá bandeira." I flip off the lens cap, turn the switch, zoom in, and try to focus. The anteater appears aware of us, but unconcerned. While anteaters have relatively poor vision and hearing, with their good sense of smell he definitely couldn't have missed our strong odor after sweating in 90 degree heat and periodically hiking through high humidity for the past few hours.
I get a few seconds of "I-have-no-idea-how-this-is-going-to-look" footage, as he ambles out of sight. I immediately jump out of the jeep to follow it, with Jeff right behind me. We spy the animal a few times through the foliage, but after 50 yards or so, we lose him entirely. "WE SAW AN ANTEATER! A GIANT ANTEATER!" We can hardly believe it.
SPECIES: See more mammals living in the Pantanal
Back in the jeep, I ask, "Who spotted it?" – It was Jeff! Oh no, he'll never let me forget this one.
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