The Photo Story: Into the world’s biggest wetlands

The jaguar is an apex predator and the largest cat in the Americas. Its bite is so powerful – due to its jaws being slightly shorter than other cats’ – that it can bite right through the skull of its prey, and pierce the thick skin of a caiman with ease
Photographer: Praveen Siddannavar

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS: Praveen Siddannavar

I used to wonder why people from across the world travelled to the Pantanal in South America; it was never on my wish list. Then, six years ago, in Brazil on business, I had the opportunity to visit. I drove onto the Transpantaneira, the unpaved road that crosses the Pantanal, and I fell in love. I’ve returned time and time again ever since.

I return, not just in search of the endangered and elusive jaguar, but also for the great biodiversity that the Pantanal cocoons – birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Each time I take a boat safari, it feels like the experience of a lifetime. The rivers are a lifeline for the animals of the Pantanal, creating a distincive ecosystem in these pristine wetlands. The best time to visit the Pantanal is between June and early November when the water levels are low, and sandbanks and white sandy beaches emerge, on which animals love to bask in the sun.

In July 2017, I took an eight-day trip into the Pantanal, staying on a well-furnished houseboat in core jaguar territory. The stunning sunrises and the star-filled nights added to the awesome wilderness experience. I was tremendously lucky to be able to spot 20 jaguars, study and understand their behavioural patterns, and document them in photographs and video.

Colourful red and green macaws fly in dazzling contrast to the sandstone cliffs of the Chapada dos Guimarães National Park. These parrots nest in cavities in the cliffs and in trees
Photographer: Praveen Siddannavar
Caiman are similar to crocodiles but smaller, and feed mainly on fish, small birds, mammals and reptiles. Capybaras are the largest living rodents in the world, and can usually be found near water bodies. Both caiman and capybara are prey for jaguars, and caiman do sometimes hunt baby capybara – which makes this a rare frame
Photographer: Praveen Siddannavar
The Chapada dos Guimarães National Park was established in 1989 in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Chapada, in Brazilian, mean a region of steep cliffs, usually at the edge of a plateau. The park is a region of rugged terrain with dramatic sandstone cliffs, caves and waterfalls and contains the geographic centre of the continent
Photographer: Praveen Siddannavar