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The Pantanal Biosphere Reserve, an enormous seasonally flooded wetland on the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, is the best place in the Americas for spotting wild animals, and one of the best places in the world to see birds. Capybara, anaconda, peccary, giant otter, metre-long macaws and ocelots are common sights and it is even possible to see that most elusive of South American mammals, the jaguar.Read more
At the end of the dry season, between June and August, the number of water birds, raptors and parrots has to be seen to be believed. Visiting the wetlands is easy with the option of staying at one of the fazenda ranch houses that are increasingly opening their doors to tourists.
The Pantanal lies within two Brazilian states: Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso. Until the second half of the 20th century these were little-explored wildernesses of table-top mountains, cerrado, savannah and dense rainforest. These days the vast plain is grazed by cattle and the great Amazonian forests of northern Mato Grosso state are steadily giving way to soya beans, though substantial pockets of forest still remain.
The Pantanal extends beyond Brazil into Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina to form an area about half the size of Germany. The plain is rimmed by low mountains. From these, 175 rivers flow into the Pantanal and after the heavy summer rains they burst their banks to create vast shallow lakes broken by patches of high ground and stands of cerrado forest. Millions of amphibians and fish spawn or migrate to these huge bodies of water and these in turn are preyed upon by waterbirds and reptiles. Herbivorous mammals graze on the stands of water hyacinth, sedge and savannah grass and at the top of the food chain lie South America’s great predators – the jaguar, ocelot, maned wolf and yellow anaconda.
In June, at the end of the wet season, when the sheets of water have reduced, wildlife concentrates around the small lakes or canals and then there is nowhere else on earth that you will see such vast quantities of birds or such enormous numbers of crocodilians. Only the plains of Africa can compete for mammals and your chances of seeing a jaguar or one of Brazil’s seven other species of wild cat are greater here than anywhere on the continent.