Outside of my family, nature photography is about the best thing life has ever brought my way. Discovering and sharing the mysteries and majesty of this incredible planet is the greatest gift I have ever received. Photographing wildlife in their natural habitat is an exhilarating experience. Lifelong memories are created while sharing time with wildlife in their comfort zone and on their own terms. However, there is invariably a price to be paid….TRAVEL!
A trip to The Pantanal in southwest Brazil ( 65,000 square miles of uninhabited wetlands) typifies my experiences. After enduring an overnight commercial flight, 5 hours of waiting for another 3 hour domestic flight, 2 hour van ride to the edge of the Pantanal, 7 hours on a bench seat anchored onto a 4 wheel drive flat bed truck over dusty gravel roads and muddy paths, a 1 hour small open-top motorboat ride up the Quiaba river basin in the rain, I finally reached my residence for the next two weeks: a barge tied off to the shore line. After dragging my 100+ pounds of gear to my sleeping quarters, I crashed. Hard.
All misery quickly vanished the next morning as my small flat-bottomed aluminum boat cruised the waterways of this mysterious region, and we encountered wildlife I had never seen before. Beautifully colored birds, caimans, giant river otters and capybaras offered terrific photo opportunities, but my greatest quarry remained elusive. Finally, on Day 3 as we nosed our bow into the bank of a small tributary, there was the reason I had traveled all these thousands of miles: a mature male jaguar laid in the camouflage of the jungle floor.
From my bench seat on this small boat, I was eye level with this gorgeous creature as he slowly rose from his resting place on the bank. He was looking directly into my lens as he approached to within 35 feet to inspect us. He stayed quite a while comfortably observing us before retreating just a bit, laid down, yawned indifferently and took a nap. Being at the top of the food chain with an unlimited supply of caimans to eat and protected from hunting, jaguars offer little threat to humans in this region of the world. Later that day, I would observe a far more dramatic scene as a water-loving jaguar stalked and easily took down a 7 foot caiman for its evening meal.
Even though I would ideally like to snap my fingers and be instantly home after one of these journeys, I honestly don’t mind the distance. It always seems shorter on the return as I chose my eyes and relive the unbelievable images nature has provided yet again.