The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland system with the vast floodplain being almost ten times the size of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Unlike the Okavango, however, very little of the Pantanal is formally protected. The region is a seasonally-inundated savanna used for cattle ranching. In recent years, the super-abundant bird life and, more particularly, the marvelous opportunities to view and photograph Jaguar (the third largest of all cats) has brought increasing numbers of tourists such that several ranches have become nature reserves.The vast wetland is the overspill of the upper Paraguay River, which runs from north to south and forms the border between Brazil (to its east) and Paraguay and Bolivia (to the its west).
On our visit to the Northern Pantanal in July 2007, we enjoyed marvelous views of Jaguar (on the Cuiabá river, where they often prey upon Spectacled Caiman) as well as Giant Anteater, Brazilian Tapir, Giant Otter, Black Howler Monkey, Capybara and Crab-eating Fox. In all my birding trips around Africa and other parts of the world, I have never seen so many birds as we encountered in the Pantanal – not in species diversity but in sheer volume. Hundreds upon hundreds of fish- and snail-eating herons, egrets, jacanas, storks, ibis, spoonbills, kingfishers and limpkin, as well as enormous numbers of raptors such as Snail Kite, Black-collared Hawk, Savanna Hawk and Turkey Vulture. The world’s largest parrot – the magnificent Hyacinth Macaw – is more-or-less restricted to the Pantanal and neighbouring Cerrado region – and can be seen is small flocks. The incredible Toco Toucan, Red-legged Seriema, White Woodpecker, Campo Flicker, Rufous Hornero and Scissor-tailed Nightjar are among the over 500 bird species recorded in gallery forest, woodland and grassland of the Pantanal.