I’d been in the Brazilian Pantanal for 6 weeks, camping on the edge of the Rio Piquiri. It was the midst of dry season, by midday 45 degrees Celsius wasn’t unusual and the ground was parched. Each day I’d head away from the river, 10km inland towards a large waterhole fringed by forest, an oasis in the arid dry grasslands that covered much of the surrounding area.
The waterhole was brimming with life. Hyacinth macaws, sunbitterns, chacalacas, jacanas, skimmers, and King vultures just some of the birds that were spotted drinking on a daily basis. An old fibreglass canoe allowed us to paddle out into the middle of the lake, where we floated silently, punting our way towards various species.
It wasn’t just birds that visited the lake. Peccaries, Marsh and Brocket deer, tapirs, giant anteaters and jaguars were all spotted most days. One old male jaguar would regularly arrive each morning and evening to drink and bathe. He got quite used to our presence and we’d regularly float quite close to him to photograph him. On this particular evening it had been relatively quiet when a movement at the far end of the lake caught our eye. Out of the undergrowth ambled a giant anteater. Giant anteaters have to be one of the most bizarre looking animals.
Firstly their size, they’re over 2 metres long nose to tail, and what a nose and tail they have! The nose, long and trunk like is perfect for sticking into termite mounds and hoovering up the inhabitants, their favourite food. Their tail, as their name in Portuguese, Tamandua bandeira, suggests, flag like (bandeira being flag in Portuguese). As they walk their nose and tail sway alternately. Their large clawed feet, perfect for tearing into rock solid termite mounds, placed delicately in front of them. Giant anteaters have awful eyesight, their eyes are tiny and they’re predominately nocturnal. They rely on hearing, and, with that giant nose, smell. There was no wind, and in our canoe we were silent so we punted our way a little closer as the anteater reached the waters edge to take a drink. It was our first proper daylight anteater encounter, but things were about to get even better. From the same direction the anteater had emerged appeared another character, our regular male jaguar. This could get interesting, we had thought. The jaguar paused, sniffed the air, and took a long look around. He then proceeded to sneak towards the anteater. Surely not.
The anteater was completely unaware, still quenching its thirst. The jaguar approached ever closer and then, just a few feet behind the anteater, it stopped. Here we go…but no.
The jaguar sat down and watched. The anteater continued to drink. Nothing changed and then, the anteater raised its head, paused, turned and walked away. Back into the forest. And the jaguar did nothing, no pounce, no follow, nothing.
Now either the jaguar wasn’t hungry or it was just very wise. Although there have been accounts of jaguars predating anteaters, it is rare. Anteaters are large, and actually can be quite aggressive. Their powerful claws, designed for breaking into sun baked termite mounds also double up as handy defence mechanisms. In fact, even people have been disembowelled by angry Giant anteaters in the past. So perhaps this jaguar knew just how well equipped anteaters actually are and decided to go for an easier meal that week.
Another surprising, and unforgettable outcome, and one I will remember for the rest of my days.
Follow Luke Massey on his Instagram @lmasseyimages.