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    Close-up of a caiman’s head behind a leaf.
    From our very first day in the Pantanal region, biologist Vanessa and I, the photographer, were captivated. This alluvial plain is home to 10 million yacare caimans.

    King of the Pantanal | Estrada Parque Road

    Incredible biodiversity always evokes the word Amazonia. Less well known, but just as astonishing, the Pantanal offers the advantage of easy wildlife observation thanks to its sparse vegetation. With some 200,000 km2 divided between Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil, it is one of the world’s largest freshwater wetlands. Less than 2% of this territory is a UNESCO conservation area. Instead of visiting the northern part of the Pantanal and its famous Transpantaneira road, we travelled the 120 km sandy and rocky Estrada Parque road, further south.

    A hundred or so caimans crowd together on a sandy islet in the middle of a pond.
    Although they usually rest in the water, it’s not uncommon to come across them right in the middle of the road. We were surprised to find our tent surrounded by three almost friendly-looking individuals.

    Be reassured, in theory this species doesn’t attack humans, as it eats fish, molluscs and crustaceans. Some tourists go so far as to have their photo taken holding the tail of this two-metre-long reptile. Still, it’s best to keep your distance from the king of the Pantanal.

    Two touring bikes next to a house decorated with large frescoes of exotic birds.
    There are almost 2,000 species of bird in Brazil, over 250 of which are thought to be threatened with extinction. Illegal poaching, habitat destruction and hunting are the main causes. With a wingspan of up to three metres, the American Jabiru (pictured right) is the largest bird in the region.

    Woman’s right hand resting in the sand near a jaguar footprint.
    To promote jaguar (panthera onca) conservation, local farmers receive compensation when these predators feed in their cattle herds.

    With her loaded bicycle, a woman makes her way across a wooden bridge.
    On the Estrada Parque, one bridge follows another, and we count around 80 in 120 km!

    Detail of earth cracked by heat and drought.
    Torrid Pantanal, it hasn’t rained in months!

    In September, at the end of the dry season (which begins in April), the temperature could reach over 40 °C. This is one of the best times to experience the wild atmosphere of the area. Most animals seek out the proximity of waterways. To discover the beauties of this region, it is recommended to take a serious guide. However, in the wet season (December to end March), 80% of the territory can be submerged for several months. The terrestrial fauna and the millions of cows exploited by the Pantaneiros then congregate on islets of dense vegetation. It’s a mosquito festival! At the end of the rainy season, if you’re a fishing enthusiast, the boat is just the thing for your adventure. You may come across the tasty dourado, a “small catch” compared to the tiger surubi­­, which can measure six feet and weigh over 80 kg.

    For our part, the four-day trip on two wheels was fabulous, despite the heat: privileged moments watching, for example, the world’s largest rodent, the capybara, or following the tracks of a jaguar in the sand. We were amazed by the graceful flight of the American Jabiru. And we were lucky enough to spot giant otters swimming in the distance. To be honest, there’s so much to see in this unique part of the world, a longer stay would certainly have been appreciated!

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