Click on the links below for details of our trip and a photo gallery

The Pantanal has around 130 species of mammal together with large numbers of reptiles, amphibians and other creatures. We managed to see four of the "big five" - Jaguar, Giant otter, Tapir, and Giant Anteater. The maned wolf eluded us but I understand that the best chance of seeing it is in the cerrados of Mato Grosso del Sul. Footprints were the closest that we got to the puma but then we were lucky to see ocelots, both hunting at night and visiting a hide.

Jaguar comes from the Guarani Indian word "Yaguara" which apparently means "he who kills with one leap". We did see jaguars trying to leap on prey - in this case riverside caiman. When successful they bite through the scales at the back of the head killing it instantly. The jaguar has an immensely strong bite which enables it to get through the caiman's impressive body armour. It is the largest cat in South America with males weighing 72-150kg and third largest cat in the world after the tiger and lion. They were spread across the Southern United States and Mexico and most of South America but now there are very few in the North. The Pantanal is an ideal environment with plains, forests and wetlands. Somewhere between 4-7000 live in the Pantanal and you are very likely to see one as they often patrol the river banks. As the 'apex predator' they have little to fear apart from poisoning by farmers since they take significant numbers of cattle every year. Conservation efforts are under way with farms to compensate them for their losses, encourage wildlife tourism and leave the jaguars alone.

The giant otter is a member of the weasel family - Mustelidae. It is distinguished from its otter cousins by a flat tail and of course its size - adult males can get up to 32kg and 1.7m long. The river banks and abundant food supply in the Pantanal make this an ideal habitat. Otters need about 4kg of fish a day to stay healthy and judging by the ease by which they appeared to be catching sailfin catfish this doesn't seem to be a problem here.

Unlike other otters the giant otter is a sociable creature and lives in family groups of up to 7 per den. They will hunt as a group and also get together to defend themselves from attack. Otters have been seen to drive off jaguars. They will also fight off other families that encroach on their territory. There are estimated to be about 7000 giant otters in the Pantanal. In the 60s the population was greatly reduced as they were hunted for their skins - beautifully soft and velvety apparently - but with the ban on hunting in 1967 the population recovered.

The ocelot is one of the smaller cats that lives in the Pantanal. We watched one visiting a hide at South Wild lodge and then saw another running with a catch in its mouth when out on a night drive. Males grow up to 16kg and 150cm - larger than the similar Margay cat that also lives here. They are active at dusk, night and dawn, hunting by either walking until they find something to catch or by sitting and waiting to ambush their prey. They are generally solitary and territorial, using natural spots as dens for sleeping in or weaning their kittens. With around 800,000 in the wild they are not endangered but it is still a treat to see them.

The caiman yacaré lives in the Pantanal in huge numbers. We were amazed to see how many were living in some roadside ponds or on the banks of some of the bigger rivers. Extraordinary considering that in the 60s they were almost hunted to extinction for their skins. In the Pantanal they are the dominant water edge predator where they live largely on fish but also are known to take egrets, snails, snakes and small capybara. They use their teeth for seizing and biting their prey and swallow their food whole. We did see one caiman that was eating one of its dead relatives. It looked like it had been rotting for a while so it was able to tear chunks off to swallow!

Caimans are closely related to alligators. The mature males are up to around 2-2.5m long although they continue to grow throughout their long lives. Some live up to 75 years. They have an amazingly adapted physiology with cooling fins for temperature regulation and a circular breathing system (like birds) which, along with more efficient heaemoglobin than we have, allows them to stay under water for up to two hours.

We saw many more animals over our nine days. One of the most common was the capybara (above left). This is the world's largest rodent and an entertaining character as it snuffles in the grass, sits on the river bank or swims along the river - often spotted early morning. They have webbed feet enabling them to swim well and also eat aquatic vegetation as well as grass and other vegetables.

We spotted two varieties of deer - the marsh deer (above right) and also the red brocket - a smaller cousin. The marsh deer is the largest found in the Pantanal - now fairly rare as a result of cattle diseases and hunting. There are two brocket deer and also a pampas deer as well.

It was a shame not to get a good sighting of the great anteater - a magnificent looking animal. We did catch one running through the bush but only enough to see the overall shape and not his/her features. We were more lucky with the lesser anteater or tamandua which we spotted by the road as we were driving to our first lodge.

Related to the otters, the Pantanal has a number of skunks and raccoons. We spotted a coati (below left) alone in the reeds but apparently they go around in big groups. We also saw a couple of raccoons on a night drive - their bushy black tails disappearing into the bushes.

The crab eating fox (below right) was a regular visitor to the kitchens at Pousada Alegre at night as it scavenged for left overs. We saw one being chased off by a bunch of peccaries, the rather aggressive wild pigs who go around in big groups digging up everything in sight.

Finally there are hundreds of snakes, frogs, and lizards. We saw several anacondas on the road as well as other snakes at night. Frogs and toads can be heard everywhere, and sometimes seen, often in the mouth of a hungry hawk. And we saw some spectacular iguanas and other lizards basking in trees and on the ground.