Author Archives: jaguardetectives

Jaguar Conservation Workshop in Atibaia, São Paulo state, Brazil

Workshop for jaguar conservation creates a national action plan and predicts 60 years for the species to disappear in northeastern Brazil
By Rogério Cunha de Paula CENAP/ICMBio

Read the complete issue on:

Brazilian jaguar researchers and representatives from IUCN.


Day 05 – September 06, 2007

Before re-starting on our journey, we returned to Porto Rico (nothing to do with the Menudos’ home island…wow, that was a terrible joke!) to find an Internet café or somewhere, anywhere, with an Internet connection where we could update our Blog, check email and deal with other issues; deadline extensions for university work, for example. We climbed from the boat onto the cement ramp, began asking around and were told about the Extreme Internet Café. We entered a house’s long corridor and descended to the basement. Here we found video rental and Internet sections, all lit with black lights, which, along with the fact that it was in the basement, made the place look like a pub. We were very well received by Henrique, a 15-year old kid who brought us a blue sofa and connected us to the web. They say that even experts never understand computers as well as their kids. The fact is that, for all our attempts, we could not connect the laptops. Henrique did so in a few seconds, after we’d asked. Are we becoming old?


We were very well received by Henrique, a 15-year old kid who brought us a blue sofa and connected us to the web...

We logged-in to the Blog (the expedition diaries was originally published in Portuguese on and thanked Felipe Lobo, of O Eco, for his help in posting our adventure. We uploaded our daily material, dealt with emails and eventually boarded our little sailboat, heading downriver.

Twenty kilometers from Porto Rico, in the region known as Porto Floresta, we began to understand the real dimensions of the Upper Paraná Corridor: one or two fishers and few signs of habitation, which drastically reduces the number of plastic bottles and other signs of “civilization”. Instead: many islands, floodplains and much forest.


… many islands, floodplains and much forest …

This mosaic, this landscape, this region, we thought, was incredibly suited to jaguars. It possessed elevated banks, sheltered islands, habitable floodplains and, more importantly, plenty of food. Our impressions are corroborated in data from jaguars monitored by radio collars in Morro do Diabo State Park (São Paulo State) and Várzeas do Ivinhema State Park (Mato Grosso do Sul State). Capybaras and marsh deer, preferred jaguar prey, were at home there.



Capybaras and marsh deer, preferred jaguar prey, were at home there.

Whoever has or will visit different types of forested areas will know that in places where hunting (by humans) is sporadic, animals tend to be less afraid. Navigating using wind gives us an added advantage: unlike motorboats, we do not make noise. This permitted us to come almost within reach of capybaras along the banks. It also led to hysterics when we frightened fishers after “unwittingly” sneaking-up on them from behind. Those with a fondness for fishing were also impressed to see a silent vehicle that did not scare the potential catch.

Navigating southward, were crossed the first rapids on the Ivinhema River, in Mato Grosso do Sul State. The Corridor each time gained more life; birds and the sightings of capybaras, otters and caimans increased considerably. The trails used by these animals were often visible to us. This reminded us of the connectivity we were trying to evaluate, these truly could be called the “paths of the jaguar”. At noon near Porto Pinheirinho, where we saw the pine tree (today quite large) that gives the place its name, we lit the barbecue and threw some onions and chicken and the grill. This was our lunch. The idea seemed well-intended and the food was quite welcome. The tailwind, however, blew billows of smoke towards us and into the cabin, reminiscent of some massive fumigation. Mishaps aside, we navigated until 19:30hs.

Whilst heading downstream, we intermittently used something akin to a carnival drum, but not quite. It was for a slightly different purpose: imitating the growl of a jaguar. This “instrument” was given to me some years ago, a present from an old hunter in the region of the Peixe River in western São Paulo State who had hunted jaguars in the upper Xingu River. We were surprised with the volume and echo created by the jaguar-call along the river (not so impressive in the video). We optimistically hoped for a reply!


…this “instrument” was given to me some years ago, a present from an old hunter…

It took us awhile to find an appropriate anchor site because of branches on the banks that constantly threatened the mast. After eventually having done this, we prepared for a quick meal and were ecstatic to pick-up a mobile signal in one of the most unlikely sites. We spoke with some friends and family, including Kauê Cachuba Abreu who studies jaguars in the floodplains of the Upper Paraná. Kauê was on a bus coming from Curitiba to Porto Figueira to join the expedition. After a quick dip in the River that reinvigorated our energies, we called jaguars until 23:30hs. We thought about the star-filled sky that would be hard to describe to someone living in a city.

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We went to bed expecting to awake with a jaguar growling in the background, coming to see what these beasts were that had invaded its territory. Would it come?





The jaguar meeting

Dear friends,
As a good Mineiro (native from Minas Gerais State) I will share in a “tale” format my meeting with a jaguar in the bush last December.

 A philosopher or some writer of “weirdoteric” book of self-help said – I am almost certain that I read it in some Richard Bach or Paulo Coelho (argh… finally the time of my life were I use to ready this stuff is over):

– Careful with your whishes, they can become true…

 So there was me and my brave squire Wilson in amazing adventures on Ivinhema State Park, Mato Grosso do Sul State. Across kilometers and kilometers of marshlands, landfills and everything else one can imagine, time to time needing to walk hours and hours seeking a tractor to take out the truck from the mud. Sometimes sleeping in farms storehouses, learning by practice how to fix diesel motors. I almost agreed with a friend that talks about the lucklessness of a Toyota “Band”. When I was already with the self esteem as an off road driver below zero, we discovery that – between another uncountable small defects – the truck lost the 4×4 traction. With my jedi field researcher honor recovered we continue our mission.

Since the appropriate introduction was made to create the state of mind of discouragement, exhaustion and – inconsistently – pleasure and satisfaction (no, we aren’t masoquists…) that the marsh can provide, we follow our mission to the second stage: camera trap review by boat through the Ivinhema river. With an intimidating wind shaking our small aluminum motorboat, we had to stop a couple of times. By the late afternoon, at the penultimate camera station, as always, we stopped the boat at the small ravine at the river bank and land.

The camera was around 20 meters from the river, close to the Fumaça river mouth, were it encounter the Ivinhema.

While we worked Wilson saw a scene, let’s say, bizarre. A savanna hawk (Buteogallus meridionalis) dead hanging by one wing in a tree. The wing was hold by a fishhook! A bird of prey gaffed as a fish by a fishertree!!! Who needs hallucinogens?


A bizarre scene…

Job done… When we was in the way back to the boat, around 10 meters from the river bank, with the late afternoon sunshine reflecting in the river creating a shadow effect in the trees, a different shadow suddenly crosses on the margin. The shadow of a 65-70 quilos cat running in complete silence in the boat direction.

– The Jaguar!!! Yell Wilson at the same time that my body instinctively reacts to the vision bombing liters of adrenalin through my veins making my heart desire to create legs and run away.

– Wow!!! !@#$%^&*!!! Prônkelafoi??? Cetavenela??? *&^%$##@!!! (Unfortunately it is necessary the SAP key to understand “mineirish”).

We moved slowly and saw through the vegetation some fur spots moving… calmly?!?!? Lying?!?! Licking, taking her cat bath almost beside the boat??? Uh, where is the neotropical forest beast? And we stand in there with a mix of fear, happiness, ecstasy, indescribable emotions and… surprise! She was in there – and probably was around us all the time, judging by the direction from it came from – taking its cat bath on the Ivinhema afternoon. She was practically ignoring the couple of biped primates that was staring at her and whispering about what they should do.


The jaguar looked to us…

First I thought: What would Sasha Siemel do? No, it is not a good idea… Hummm. What would Laury and Dênis do? What would Brian Boltano do??? It is hard to evaluate this things… Let’s improvise…

– We need to reach the boat Wilson! – At this point we was talking normally, almost offended by the snob jaguar who barely looked to us.

– How with the jaguar in there? – Answered Wilson

– I need pictures! I can’t leave without a Picture! Let’s come closer! Let’s go to that tree! Let’s always keep something between us and she! – Lot’s of pictures and also a short video, but the light reflected by the river in contrast with the darkness of the forest did not cooperate with the photos, at least one was reasonable. Hummm…

– Hey Wilson, get the tripod at the boat!!! Hehe!

– You go!!!

More than 15 minutes after the first time we saw her, we decided to get away from there. Time to time we heard a fuggy noise, something like a hand saw. Every time the sound repeated she looked in the direction of the noise like who is waiting for the hand saw to come walking.

– Wilson, I think it is a couple…

We decided to not stay for the meeting. We weren’t invited, you know, would not be educated. And when jaguars are in couple, they usually are doing things that everybody – well, most part of people –  prefer to do in privacy.

– Let’s scream! – Aaaand… nothing happened. The jaguar looked to us with disdain and superiority…

– Let’s throw something in her direction! – says Wilson – Let’s go. – I answer.

Like the first hominids running from saber tooth tigers we throw sticks on our feared and admired study object. She only moved a little and ride behind a tree. It was more than enough for us to break the world record of running, embark and start in motorboat!

As soon as the boat start to descend by the river she came back and lay at the same place!!! Only leaves when we turn on the motor!

We down the Ivinhema in the sunset direction with sensations that cannot be described by speaked or writed language. At the end of the day, all I could think was in Edgar Allan Poe words:

 “… And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!”

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We down the Ivinhema in the sunset direction…



Conservation Games

To celebrate my 13th (or is it the 16th? Think I lost the account… anyway) project proposal denied I decide to write some lines on this issue. E-mails starting with “…we regret to inform you…” can change pure hope in complete frustration… But what is behind it? The proposals do not achieve the excellence required? Technical problems? Limited funds? Priorities? Economical crisis? Maybe a little of each. Wait a minute, I just remember an important one: how about political issues? Doesn’t matter how many people review it. Doesn’t matter how different is the approach. Doesn’t matter how hard you try to change and improve it. Doesn’t matter how many nights you spend awake studying and writing. Doesn’t matter how hard you work in the field… Let’s think on the causes listed above. If you remember something, please, let me know.

Excellence. Yes, English is not my first language – and one can say that it is obvious by reading what I am writing – but two north-Americans and one British did a review on the text. The proposal was reviewed by jaguar specialists, ocelot specialists, landscape ecology specialists, ecologists, geneticists, and other “ists” from universities, NGO’s, Zoos and Governmental agencies in Latin America, USA and UK. These are just the ones I know. Here are not counted the reviews from the places where the proposal was submitted (they never send their review, even if you ask for it). The concept, background and actual results are been presented in scientific congresses, meetings and institutions. People always come to us to say how impressed they are and on their interest in know more or even participate on the work. Excellence is not eliminated, nothing is perfect, everything is evolving.

Technical problems. No methodology is perfect. We study a lot to increase precise and unbiased designs to collect our data. That is one of my major concerns at the moment. Reviewing literature we find lots of garbage that do not follow any assumptions and despite that are been published. A critical review is needed on camera trap sampling using capture recapture models and if you weight the number of projects using the methodology and the number of good estimates you will understand what I am talking about. Most part pretend to estimate wildcat densities and at the end all they can do with the data is a list of mammal species because do not had a sampling design BEFORE goes to the field. I am talking about this particular issue because is my concern now, but we can develop the same speech on other methodologies. We have a saying in Brazil: there are people that can take milk from stones… One can say: So, where are YOURS publications, Fernando? I am finishing my data collection, give me a few months.

Limited funds, crisis. Ok, there is an economical crisis and I can feel it on my bank account… Let me made something clear: our Landscape Detectives approach is divided by fronts. We have the jaguar and puma studies in Pontal been developed by IPÊ – Insituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas, in Ivinhema by Pró-Carnívoros and Ilha Grande also by IPÊ. All then along in the Upper Paraná Ecoregion one of most important area for conservation of neotropical cats. I am member of the jaguar team and coordinator the ocelot initiatives in Pontal – another front. The ocelot project had a long history from 1999 and I just jump in the history in 2003 informally and officially in 2005. I improve the design and expand the approach. The proposals are been submitted couples of years before the crisis.

On priorities I still talking on limited funds and arrive where I want: political issues… Sometimes is quite funny to see the Big International NGO’s – BINGOS fighting for their territory. How many times in events and meetings you find people from BINGOS without contribute with nothing, but spent lots of money in flights just to be there and mark territory? They launch beautiful books with titles like “last unbelievable threatened areas of the world” or “the last amazing almost totally destroyed ecosystems in the biodiversity hot points of earth”. They probably spend rivers of money to pay the photographers and, of course, marketing and design consultants to produce and give these cool names to the books. Oh, yes! There are lot’s of volunteers to do it also, but not all.

After all I have travel a lot on Atlantic Forest and never saw one of these beautiful books on local people hands. I indeed don’t have any, they are really, really expensive and don’t bring any relevant information. But they do have something: mixed with the landscape and almost extinct animals photos are excellent professional photos of poor simple local people from Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, India, Indonesia, Sumatra, Kenia, South Africa, etc, etc, etc… They are always smiling. The book is almost saying: look what a great job we are doing! Isn’t that great?

What local people think of that? I heard friends that work in small villages in Amazonian Forest saying how the local people reacts when BINGOS come to do protests that goes overseas against deforestation and they are not talking about the timber workers.  The locals have no idea why these people are in there and why they are doing this and they don’t seem to care in explain. Most part are “altruistic” volunteers that don’t even know and don’t care how to say good morning in Portuguese or understand local culture. You turn on TV and there are channels that only exhibit documentaries on animals and cool researches around the world. But between the lines what do you see? It is always Dr. Somebody from University Somewhere in Europe or North America – USENA is doing a research in blablabla. Dr. Somebody with his team of students of USENA now blablabla. Local people are field assistants, auxiliary, or equivalent. Why local researches are not in there? Why Dr. Somebody needs to bring his team? Why our adorable adventurer PhD. does not encourage local people to become a researcher? Why do not include local researchers? Too generalized? Ok, some exceptions do. But if we are talking on conservation it needs to change. Conservation depends on long term actions. It needs multidisciplinary approach. Conservation of endangered species is not just to write a dissertation. It is not just a North American or European coming to the tropics to collect the data and coming back to university. I repeat: Conservation needs long term action.

Conservation will be promoted by those who accept the challenge to leave their home countries and spend decades on the study region and those who already live and work in there.

Please, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying that people from other countries shouldn’t come to do their researches. They must come! My point is: most of these development and even poor countries have good professionals, good universities and good – some excellent – research institutions. These researchers have the advantage to already know the culture, the language and most important: they live in the places. They are the main tool to promote conservation. They do not suppose to be treated just as labor. I know some people that are coming to collect jaguar data in Brazil to their PhD. and masters – of course there are many more. Ok, the specie needs research and we are happy in help then if they need to. But I also know dozens of brilliant Latin American students  and researchers that could – and want to – do the same job and maybe can do it better if they get the opportunity. Why they are not included or even consulted? I know researchers that are coming collect data on ocelots in South America – and this is great. I am glad for then. But, what make me mad is: the amount of money they spent just with flight tickets, accommodation and food could support one year of a local researcher project.

My ocelot project needs U$ 20.000 YEAR to carry on, and this is change compared with some projects doing the same. What is wrong? Why they approve a much more expensive project applied by a North American or European than a local if they have the same goals? Many times the local project is much more advanced and has long term objectives instead a short research for a graduate program. If the BINGOS, Universities and Grant Institutions don’t think we are able to do the job: say it! Please, don’t come with political correct e-mail answers talking about priorities if you are supporting research in areas where the specie is not endangered and refuses it in places where it needs recovery action just because of political stuff. Don’t threat us as fools! Don’t understimate us! And by us I mean people from all Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. This does not suppose to be a game.

Please, don’t interpret it as some xenophobic speech. I restore all my faith and admiration on North Americans after last president election! I still loving Scotland, Ireland (love your accent) and England. My list of things to do before die include go to Germany (to learn German is also in the list, but the first previous item sounds easiest). My point here is that conservation biology is about a global crisis and can’t be used as political games. It is important that researchers from all around the world join efforts on wildlife conservation, but this needs to be made together, not top-down or bottom-up.

Yes, I am frustrated. Yes, I am angry and tired. But, of course, I am too stubborn to quit… I will do it, even if I have to pay from my own pocket. You will see…



Day 4 – September 5, 2007

After yesterday’s fright in the lock, we awoke at 6:30 AM and noticed a man meandering curiously toward us to look at the boat. Mr. Eliseu owns the house facing that night’s mooring. We were preoccupied with the CESP (São Paulo State Electric Company) high tension lines that cross the River right below Porto Primavera.


If there was any likelihood these were too low for our mast to clear, we would have to raise it only after we crossed the danger. Mr. Eliseu put us at ease, however:
– Gosh! You’ll cross easily!
We took his word for it and began to raise the mast, which we did in a record 45 minutes. In an improvised protocol, we used the pulleys from the primary sail for the job, as we had done the day before to lower it. This was much more effective than the strength of many arms. Imagining the primary sail (our sailboat has two: the master and the genoa) as a “rectangular” triangle, the part attached to the mast would be the hypotenuse and the adjacent side, the bottom portion: the latter, attached to the boom. The day before, the latter had lost four of its rivets. Mr. Eliseu, who was looking-on very interested, immediately offered us his toolbox. Using a drill connected to the on-board generator, we cleared the holes and installed new rivets.


… we cleared the holes and installed new rivets.

In the lock, the mast, which had been firmly tied to the boat, had lightly scraped one of the walls. This loosened the windsock (the indicator of wind direction). As the mast was now already mounted, we decided on another “improvisation”; we brought a harness for just such occasions. Our rationale: if the pulley supports the full weight of the sail and the force of the wind, it should easily cope with a slim human like me.


… it should easily cope with a slim human like me.

After a quick restocking trip to the supermarket, we bid farewell to Mr. Eliseu and the small crowd that had amassed to watch our handiwork on the boat…or, a là Douglas Adams: So long and thanks for all the tools! At 10:00 in the morning we were sailing with favorable winds and plenty of tereré .
We navigated with an east wind at the stern using only the master sail, maintaining an average of 5,5 mi/h; the current on the Paraná obviously giving us an extra push. This was the main goal of the expedition: we were officially in the Jaguar Corridor. This was the northern-most portion of the Corridor, near Morro do Diabo State Park and the Caiuá Ecological Station. The difference in landscape was noticeable; in truth, stunningly so. Everything we sailed through to get here now seemed so distant, as though it had happened ages ago. During the course of that day, we were surrounded by well-structured gallery forests, mosaics of islands and varzeas.



There exist theories that describe the relation between island size and proximity with number or richness of extant species. These, collectively known as Island Biography, posit that the larger the island, the higher the species richness. It seems obvious? It may well be, but many of the more important discoveries have come from the more banal deductions. The Theory of Evolution itself, which arguably provoked the most tangible revolution in the way humans see themselves, the universe and everything in between, described in Charles Robert Darwin’s The Origin of Species is so amazingly straightforward (with due respect) that Thomas Henry Huxley, upon reading the book, declared: How incredibly simple! I should have thought of this!
Interesting stuff, but let’s return to Island Biogeography. Again, it may seem simple, but it is worth emphasizing that we are presenting an extremely basic summary of the Theory for fear that if we delve too much into the technical and scientific details we would lose to tedium those that are following our expedition but are not interested in its strictly academic aspects. Thus, all jokes aside, we will try to maintain the text as relaxing and informative as possible without becoming too prosaic. Technical aspects will be sent to those interested. We hope that you understand and enjoy!
Lets return to the Theory. It has been adopted in various studies of forest fragmentation, where forest fragments become the “islands”. Sadly, this is fully applicable to the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, which today is reduced to 7% of its original size due to 500 years of the Brazilian extractive philosophy – well described by Warren Dean in his With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest: “To those who come after: deal”.
The landscape surrounding the fragments, which in the original Theory was sea and ocean, is designated as the matrix by landscape ecologist. The matrix offers resistance, i.e. some species can cross long distances from one fragment to the other, whilst others have a reduced capacity to do so. A quick example: a jaguar can cross several kilometers of pasture and plantation to get from one fragment to another. However, a small primate cannot and depending on the distance, not even a large monkey such as the woolly spider monkey can complete this trajectory. Different species thus have different capacities to disperse. Why is this important? Depending on the isolation of a fragment or “island”, populations of a resident species begin to lose genetic diversity. Since immigration is rare, individuals from one group do not contribute new genes to other populations, the genetic variability of isolated groups diminishes. This causes higher mortality and lower resistance to disease, among other consequences.
This is the point of the Jaguar Corridor: inter-connecting the biodiversity of the Upper Paraná. Obvious? This time, perhaps simplicity is not exactly in order. We are not dealing exclusively with corridors. Many parks are islands that, in the long run, lose species because they cannot sustain large or sufficient enough populations to maintain genetic variability. As researchers, many times we hear (in truth, almost all of the time) that there are many animals, much forest, that it will never end… The fact that one sees an animal today does not mean that within a few generations it will still exist, even if the forest is still there. Even cattle ranchers have to work hard to maintain good genes in their herds using artificial insemination.
Another obvious example: Whoever has siblings raise their hands. Why – if you are not identical twins – are you not identical to your brothers and/or sisters? We receive 50% of our genes from our mothers and 50% from our fathers, but this does not mean that our siblings will receive the same 50%: they can receive different genes, the process is random. Now suppose that your father was the only human in the world who had the immunity gene for a disease and that this gene was not passed-on to you or to any of your siblings…the gene disappears when your father dies, which, of course, isn’t our wish. In fact, we wish all fathers live long lives and become grandparents.
All of this thinking can seem like folly to some, but in the end it is easy to understand and sometimes we are the ones with aversions to certain ideas. In the same way that mathematics gives elementary school children nightmares. In truth, such rationalizing raises the deepest and most relevant debates in the design of reserves, the conservation of threatened species and the relation between man and nature itself. For those who still insist on the “why’s” of preserving “little animals and plants” when there are so many people dying of hunger, there remains a question along the same lines: what if the little animal or plant that is on the verge of extinction possessed the cure for cancer? The motives for conservation go well beyond the simple interest of the future of humanity, but this is only an additional simple example. Moreover, citing “the dying children in the streets” as an argument highlights a fallacy: will exterminating species using destructive development models stop hunger? Are we destroying the Cerrado  and planting soybeans in order to end hunger, or to export to China so they can make pig feed? This debate is comical coming from persons who find it normal that football players are sold to foreign teams for sums that add to billions of dollars…
This brings us to where we are, feeding on and deriving inspiration from the adventures of natural historians who traveled Brazil at the start of the nineteenth century, but using the theories and the technology of our own generation: rediscovering the Upper Paraná and its Corridor.
Leaving behind themes too polemic and complex to be dealt with here, let’s return to the voyage itself. Along the course we traveled through Porto São José without stopping, although we were feted by children on the banks screaming “Stop here, Stop here…”. We were probably the first sailboat they had seen on this portion of the Paraná, a fact that was confirmed by the older fishermen. At three in the afternoon, we anchored in Porto Rico, where we also caught the interest of some local residents. We immediately savored a serving of fried Tilápia in the Beira Rio Restaurant; after all, no one is made of stone! We then sighted the Porto Rico Island with a sandy beach near the restaurant where we would overnight. At five in the afternoon, we sailed to it with an east wind, and purposely grounded the Pasárgada onto the beach. Afterward, we hopped off and began to explore the location.


That night, we improvised a grill and dined on grilled sausage…coated with sand (argh) and with a side of rice. Afterward, we turned-on the generator to power the laptops and prepared our diaries. We slept looking through Pasárgada’s mosquito net, with falling stars lighting up the sky.




Day 3 – September 4, 2007

The day was still struggling to show its first signs and we were already preparing for breakfast, when two people, almost unnoticeably, climbed down the banks toward the river margin: Carlos Plateiro and one of the assistants who work on the farm he owns in Anaurilândia. Breakfast postponed, we disembarked to talk with our friend.


The day was still struggling to show its first signs…



…we disembarked to talk with our friend.

It is worth making a parenthesis here to tell a short personal story:
I read about Carlos when I still was in high school, and the story of that hunter who came to help researchers to catch jaguars thrilled me. Many years after the boring daily classes at that high school in Minas Gerais, in July 2004, I found myself running beside him and his dogs to capture a female jaguar and change its radio collar. Carlos’ skills to follow tracks and his knowledge of these felines are matchless.


Carlos’ skills to follow tracks are matchless.

Many people think it is incongruent to have so much admiration for old hunters such as Carlos and Sasha Siemel (a Ukrainian who became well-known for killing jaguars in Pantanal with a kind of spear called zagaia). However, these men come from a different historical moment, far different from modern safaris.


Tigrero! Sasha Siemel’s 1953 book.

Carlos did not stay long, and we soon set off. The morning was stressful. We had to cross a true minefield in the paliteiros.



… a true minefield in the paliteiros.

It can sound repetitive, but it is extremely difficult to understand why those trees were left untouched when the water level was raised. There must be a good reason! The excess of organic remains available in the environment favors the proliferation of bacteria that use up water oxygen, leaving no oxygen for the rest of the system, in a phenomenon known as eutrophication. Although it was not observed in this lake, there is still a question about the advantages of leaving all those trees to die without using their wood, impairing navigation, and also running the risk of decreasing the number of fish due to lack of oxygen in the environment… There must be a reason.
After crossing the paliteiro, we reached the river channel and carried on. We picked up good speed with a tailwind (that coming from directly behind the boat). As we approached the dam, the wind was stronger and the waves higher and higher. We started to radio for guidelines to proceed for the locking operation. In a nutshell, a lock is a system of gates for connecting bodies of water at different water levels; most of us are more or less aware of this process: it is the same used in the Panama Canal, since the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are not at the same level, which makes this system necessary for vessels to cross from one side to the other. In our case, we were preparing to go from the highest level (dam) to the original riverbed, 20 meters lower.


The lock

After several attempts, we established a radio connection and were given instructions to tie the boat to one of the six dolphins (a dolphin is a concrete pile to which vessels may be moored) that were near the entrance to the lock.


The dolphins

Our contact was calmly checking if it would be possible to authorize us to pass, despite the fact that we had already been authorized one month before. At that moment, we were informed that the maximum height that lock can accommodate is 10 meters, which left us in a far from happy situation with our 11.25 meters (9.75 of mast and 1.50 of draft). With waves almost 3 meters high moving our boat up and down with a force of some few, but not friendly, tons, we were trying – at the same time – to tie the boat, to speak on the radio, and to steer the helm, while the already introduced waves were happily pushing us toward the concrete wall. We could not tie the boat to the dolphin we thought was safer, and the boat came to bump into the wall, while we were desperately trying to get it out of there. While we waited for instructions from our calm friend, we tried hard to avoid the waves and their not insignificant tons of pressure making our sailboat and ourselves into small floating pieces that, these indeed, would serenely go down the river. We succeeded – if we can say that – in our efforts to tie the boat to another dolphin ahead, one that was not so close to that almost magnetic concrete wall.


The killer one.

Higher and higher waves were moving the boat up and down when one of them hit us right on the side and broke the two ropes we had tied as if they were threads. Our reflexes sharpened by the not-at-all-funny risk of losing the boat and our lives, we sailed through the waves looking for a safe place to go over the best way to deal with the situation. In our maps, we found an inlet and we headed there helped by GPS, while everything was shaking and threatening to go out of place, due to the force of the wind and the up-and-down waves.
The authorization for the locking operation was denied owing to our boat height. What should we do? Give up? Only if the boat sinks! Although the manual of the O’day 23 (the model of our sailboat) tells that at least three people are needed to disassemble and assemble the mast, we could lower it and tie it in one hour, and at 5 PM we got the authorization for the locking operation.



Give up?

The operators were having problems to open the gate. So, already bitten by the experience with the dolphins, even with lower waves, we decided to sail back slowly to the inlet that had sheltered us before, in case they could not open the gate before nightfall.


Fortunately, everything came out well, and we finally entered the canal for the locking operation.


Everything was fine. We reached the original bed of the Paraná River and – yes – the Jaguar Corridor! We moored about 2 km downstream from the lock, in Porto Primavera.



Day 2 – September 3, 2007

Most important accounts and findings: Definitely a long day! We woke up really early and, after a hearty breakfast, reassumed our journey, but could count very little on the wind. About one third of our route was taken using the 15 hp outboard engine that we have for situations like this and for riskier maneuvers. We continued our route along the original riverbed, that is, the natural bed before dam.


…could count very little on the wind.

Using the GPS (Global Positioning System) and the navigation notebooks from the Infrastructure and Waterways Division of the Ministry of Transports website, we tried to plan a safe route and stick to it, away from hull hazards caused by the aquatic cemetery of submerged tree trunks of what has once been part of the Atlantic Forest of the States of São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul. Our average speed along the day was of about 3.5 knots, with no stopovers along the 38 miles between the mouth of the Santo Anastácio River, in the municipality of Presidente Epitácio, where we had stayed overnight, until the mouth of the Quiteróiz, in Anaurilândia, in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. The landscape along this stretch was quite repetitive and monotonous. Paliteiros , inundated forests, and collapsing banks on the São Paulo side.


Using the GPS (Global Positioning System) and the navigation notebooks.




Paliteiros , inundated forests, and collapsing banks on the São Paulo side.

The first impression is that, little by little, the lake formed by the dam of the Paraná River is swallowing the State of São Paulo margins. Considering the size of the sheet of water and the continuous waves that hit the margins, the Permanent Conservation Areas (APP`s), which should be reforested to restore gallery forests to protect river margins, are, in fact, mostly open pastures affected by a slow process of fluvial erosion. Many farmers report that, in the last four or five years, they have lost from 50 to 80 meters of banks. It means that, in some cases, areas initially demarcated as APPs do not exist anymore; they have been completely swallowed by the river and are contributing to silting, reducing the useful life of the reservoir and its hydroelectric power plant.
It is worth remembering that the stretch upstream from Sérgio Motta Hydroelectric Power Plant (Porto Primavera), where we still are, do not provide connections with the Biodiversity Corridor of the Paraná River. Making it simple, this stretch connects nowhere to nowhere, since there are no Conservation Units or significant forest areas along the course. Tomorrow (September 4), we are going to perform a locking operation at Sérgio Motta Power Plant, navigating downstream, and entering the original and undammed bed of the Paraná River.
After the locking operation, we will have started the journey through the northern section of the Corridor, in areas close to the Ecological Station of Caiuá (State of Paraná), at the confluence with the Paranapanema River, near Morro do Diabo State Park (State of São Paulo). Floodplains inhabited by jaguars, marsh deers and other species from the semi-deciduous forests of the Upper Paraná and the floodplains associated to them await the passage of Pasárgada.
The afternoon was extremely stressful, since our original plans did not include reaching the other margin in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. We had to leave the mapped watercourse, getting closer to shallow waters than we would have wished, amid many dead tree trunks. But it will well worth it. Our objective in going to Anaurilândia was to meet a good friend and one of the greatest jaguar (ex) hunters in Brazil: Carlos Plateiro. Tomorrow morning, Carlos will meet us in the banks of the Paraná River, at the back of Sete Belo Farm, where we will spend the night. In the seventies and eighties, Carlos used to be hired by farmers in Mato Grosso do Sul to kill the jaguars that predated cattle in the region. He killed more than 200 felines in his career as a hunter. However, today he is on our side, helping IPÊ, as well as many other research institutions all over Brazil, in ecological hunts to capture jaguars and pumas to attach radio-collars to them and monitor these animals for scientific purposes.


On conservation side. From guns to anesthetized darts. Carlos and sedated jaguars.

Many recollections and advice come to our minds in our daily routine on the boat. Once, Amyr Klink said in an interview that most people have bucolic views of expeditions and, according to him, this has even been a reason for problems with crew members who imagined they were simply setting off on a leisure trip to read, write, and pass their time. Sure, in their dreams! The truth is that there is no time for anything! He could not be more right, after all he is Amyr Klink!!!
We woke up before dawn and, after herculean effort, could sit down at the end of the day, around 9 PM, to write these lines you are reading. There are so many details, so much organization, attention, and fatigue that it is hard to think of anything else than going to sleep. But… who wants a different life? Definitely not us!!!
Other recollection comes from a passage in the book Karluk, which tells the story of a namesake sailboat that (almost) went off on an expedition to the Arctic in 1913. There, after freezing and shipwrecking, with their supplies in the last stages, the crew discussed about tea! Yes, tea! And they composed an ode to tea (most of the crew was English) and all it represented to them in those moments of affliction.


The amazing Karluk‘s voyage

Here, in the Jaguar Corridor expedition, we will celebrate tereré !!! For those who do not know it, it is made from same herb used for chimarrão , prepared differently, with iced water, preferably very iced water!!! So this is our record in honor of this beverage that saves us from dehydration, in a short ritual that only those used to it know what we are talking about. Thanks to our friend Toy (Luis António Dassan), a pioneer in sailboating on the Paraná River, for having introduced us to sailing and for an almost endless stock of tereré!

We anchored at 6 PM, on an eastern wind, at half sail, at about 2.2 knots, near Anaurilândia (State of Mato Grosso do Sul) at the mouth of the Quiteróiz River, in front of Sete Belo Farm, in the Mato Grosso do Sul margin.





Day 1 – September 2, 2007

As planned, the Jaguar Corridor Expedition departed at 2:30 PM from Porto Príncipe Marina, in the town of Presidente Epitácio, São Paulo. Our departure was quite hectic, with friends from IPÊ, sailors and supporters from all over the region coming to watch closely the beginning of our journey along the Paraná River. Representatives from the local Justice and Navy departments, and friends from the Marina, interested in our expedition objective and results, came to wish us success and good winds. Some driven by curiosity, some fascinated by the adventure itself, the fact is that our departure was marked by strong feelings of companionship and strong emotions, at times we found it difficult to conceal our nervousness. And so we left, with more than one tear in our eyes, celebrated as if we were going to Manuel Bandeira’s Pasárgada.


…we found it difficult to conceal our nervousness.

 Our journey was bound for south. In spite of not being of much help in the beginning, the wind rewarded us with a smooth sailing at the end of that afternoon, allowing us to navigate more than 10 miles in about 3 hours. Even after such a short trip, we could already confirm some issues, and these were the ones that called our attention the most:

1) Islands of forests, temporary Noah’s Arks: After the Paraná River was dammed, forming the Porto Primavera Lake, some tracts of land remained isolated in the middle of the reservoir, surrounded by water. Although beautiful on the lake landscape, these isolated forest fragments have served as temporary shelters for many species of the local fauna when the waters rose rapidly during the process of filling the reservoir. The Hydroelectric Power Plant staff was in charge of rescuing the fauna; however, many animals were not lucky enough to be saved. Unfortunately, even those sheltering on the emerging islands are with their days numbered, since they are far from being numerous enough to produce genetically healthy populations. Little by little, the Arks are losing their couples.

2) The paliteiros,  submerged dead forests: After the filling of the lake, the remnant forests along the Paraná River were inundated. As they were not removed earlier, real cemeteries of dead trees (paliteiros) formed, spotting the sheet of water and posing boating hazard. Scenes are almost “gothic”.


Paliteiros: literally, toothpick holders, since the dead trees look like toothpicks emerging from the water  surface.

3) High banks in the State of São Paulo: The State of São Paulo was much less affected by the filling of the lake, whose margins are formed by higher banks. As for the State of Mato Grosso do Sul, with floodplains and lower areas, that was the region most affected by the filling, with approximately 270 km2 of inundated areas, contrasting with only 27 km2 in the State of São Paulo.



High banks in the State of São Paulo

We anchored at 6 PM in Santo Anastácio Stream, a tributary of the Paraná River, in the State of São Paulo margin, which have also suffered the consequences of the filling, showing several paliteiros and inundated floodplains. A local family welcomed us, offering a shower and food.





Fernando and Laury

Are jaguars killing everything?

Back on July we went to the forest fragment Tucano to start sampling this area. I have to confess that I didn’t want to do this now. In 2005 we start a pilot study on ocelots in the fragments. At that time we only had eight camera-traps and set up all in Tucano. Four was taken, probably destroyed by hunters… we had to put the study in standby until we enough resources to buy more equipment. Think it could be better to do this sample at the beginning of the next year, but we had to anticipate despite my fears of new equipment losses. What is done is done… let’s go on!

Then me, Cicinho, Wilson, the vet Marcelo and Camila – a treinee, went to Seo Menezes house in a settlement to go to the forest. Seo Menezes and his wife Dona Francisca always receive us very well with a cup of coffee and we talk about all kind of stuff.


Seo Menezes and his wife Dona Francisca always receive us very well with a cup of coffee and we talk about all kind of stuff.

This particular occasion the conversation flows to an interesting way. Seo Menezes starts to ask why we are bringing jaguars back to the region! We explain that we are not bringing then from other places, they are coming by themselves since Tucano is close to the Morro do Diabo State Park. Then Seo Menezes continues with his point:
– When we arrive here, there were animals all around! We didn’t need to hunt; one could get an armadillo with naked hands! Now these jaguars are killing everything! We don’t see any animals more.
– How about the hunters, Seo Menezes?
– Noooooooooo… nobody hunts here…


… and the conversation flows to an interesting way.

We try to explain in simple words some points. OK. To understand it we need to know a little on the Pontal history. The fragmentation process in Pontal is quit recent (<60 years) an it took place at extremely high rates. Farmers used orange angent – the same chemical used by USA in Vietnam to take off tree leaves – and after that burn the forest to take possession of the land. Thos who have interest in know more I would recommend the must read Warren Dean book “With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest”.


With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest

So let’s bring it in a simple example. Imagine the oceans start to raise… think it’s not difficult to imagine that – since Global Warming came to environmental agenda everybody is talking about it. In this example let’s put this in a extreme rates: there still just a few islands in the world, where used to be the highest mountains. Millions of people would die, but to where the survivors will run?
Same with animals! All the survivors run for their lives to the forest refugees. This “inflates” the population size. This situation is temporary, because there is not enough resource to everybody and individuals starts to die from starvation, low reproductive rate, disease, high infant mortality… Until it reach an “equilibrium”. Some species disappear and usually the most sensitive to environmental changes goes first.
It bring us to another issue: carnivores! The big things that run the world! Without predators, prey goes wild and increase population size. It brings radical changes in the system. More competitive prey species eliminate others and we have a decline in diversity. If you found that interesting you NEED to read “Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators”, well cited by our friends on SouthWest Jaguars Blog.


Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators

Well… after a while trying to explain to Seo Menezes that jaguars are not the real problem we decided to go to the forest and work! After all, is what we suppose to do in there.
Tucano is a definitely a dense bush! Lot of hard work and we could install only three cameras in one day! Despite Seo Menezes delusion that nobody hunt in there we found five “cevas” and a jararaca snake to complete day.


Where is the snake?


A ceva is a place where hunters frequently leave food for pacas, agoutis, peccaries, etc. When they see that the animals are using it they construct a rudimentary ladder in a tree and wait. When the animal comes to a meal, it becomes the meal…



When the animal comes to a meal, it becomes the meal…

See you in Monday!


The Jaguar Corridor Expedition Press Release

“On board sailboat Pasárgada, Laury Cullen and Fernando Lima, researchers of the Institute of Ecological Research – IPÊ, set off on an unheard-of expedition, sailing for more than 270 miles, with the objective of investigating the current conservation status of the Biodiversity Corridor of the Upper Paraná River.

The sailboat Pasárgada

 The Biodiversity Corridor protects the Atlantic Forest in five Brazilian States and connects to forest remnants in Argentina and Paraguay. It covers areas of the Atlantic Forest biome, including the Paraná and Iguaçu river basins, the National Parks of Ilha Grande and Iguaçu, the State Parks of Morro do Diabo, Ivinhema and Turvo, the Ecological Stations of Black Lion Tamarin and Caiuá, and the Environmental Protection Area (Área de Proteção Ambiental – APA) of the islands and floodplains of the Paraná River. Experts point to the Atlantic Forest biome as one of the world hotspots, that is, one of the priority areas for biodiversity conservation, since it shelters one of the most important biodiversity sites on the planet, with about 20,000 species of plants (6.7% of all species in the world), of which 8,000 are endemic, and a great wealth of vertebrates (269 species of mammals, 849 of birds, 197 of reptiles, and 372 of amphibians).

According to the document “Biodiversity Vision for the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest Ecoregion”, published by WWF-Brazil, in the beginning of colonial times in Latin America, the region of the Brazilian Biodiversity Corridor of the Paraná River covered 471,000 Km2 of continuous forests and high biodiversity of plants and animals. Today it is reduced to only 2.7% of its original extension. In Brazil alone, the Atlantic Forest supplies water to three quarters of the population. Most of the electricity consumed in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is generated by Atlantic Forest rivers, especially in the Upper Paraná, where three of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world – Porto Primavera, Itaipu and Yaciretá – are located. As reported in studies carried out by IPÊ in Pontal do Paranapanema, the corridor region shelters countless species of South-American fauna, among which stand out large carnivores, such as the jaguar and the puma, and mammals, such as tapirs, deers, peccaries, maned wolves, anteaters, and several primates.


Part of the length of the river covered by the expedition, and some reserves visited during the journey. (27) São Paulo Lagoon in Presidente Epitácio; (24) State Park of Ivinhema Floodplains; (29) National Park of Ilha Grande.

The researchers departed from Presidente Epitácio on September 2, 2007, and sailed until they reached the surroundings of the Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant in Paraná. Along the journey, they stopped several times at critical points along the Upper Paraná River. Their objective was to produce a technical and photographic report, emphasizing the main threats and opportunities for the viability of the ecological corridor. The expedition logbooks tell the adventures of a ten-day journey downstream along the corridor.”

Dear friends, every Wednesday we will post here one new daily report from our expedition. Keep coming!