On the Pantanal - Jaguar preys on Yacaré Caiman

Photos and story by Paul Donahue

After a completely amazing month in Jaguar land (Rio Cuiabá area of Brazilian Pantanal), Teresa and I just arrived back in civilization and back at an internet connection this afternoon. As we had hoped, the Jaguars were spectacular, with only one day in which we failed to find any of the cats. Most days we found one or two. On our best day we watched six of them. The most thrilling sighting of our stay happened only a couple of days before we left the area and the photos are attached here.

In mid-afternoon we received a radio call that a large male Jaguar (male Pantanal Jaguars are about the size of an African lioness) known as Mick Jaguar was up along the Rio Tres Irmãos, one of the main rivers we covered daily.

By Paul Donohue
We arrived on the scene to find him in thick grass upstream of a sandbar with a couple of basking Yacaré or Paraguayan Caiman on it. Over the next 30-40 minutes we watched the Jaguar very slowly slink along in the direction of the Yacaré. One of the two Yacaré slipped into the river, but the larger one, a two and a half meter long, probably 120 pound, individual remained on the sandbar, facing away from the water and from the approaching Jaguar.

By Paul Donohue

By Paul Donohue

By Paul Donohue
When the Jaguar reached the little inlet, it slipped into the water and slowly swam across to the sandbar. Our boat was positioned perfectly, with the sun behind us and very close to the Yacaré, and we realized that whatever happened was going to happen right in front of us.

By Paul Donohue
Reaching the sandbar, the Jaguar rose up very slowly until most of its body was clear of the water,...

By Paul Donohue
...then suddenly pounced on the Yacaré.

By Paul Donohue
It grabbed it first with its right front paw,...

By Paul Donohue
...bit the Yacaré's back a foot below the head,...

By Paul Donohue
...quickly adjusted its bite to the base of the Yacaré's skull (the manner in which a Jaguar normally kills),...

By Paul Donohue
...then wrestled the Yacaré into a dragging position...

By Paul Donohue
...and headed right back across the inlet.

The whole kill took just a few seconds, and we all just stood there with our mouths hanging open not believing what we had just witnessed. We had seen kills before, but nothing so spectacular and horrific nor at such close range. It's made me think a lot about the fragility of life and the fine line between life and death.

A heart-felt thank you to Paul for sharing the story and fantastic photos!

Paul Donahue is a naturalist, wildlife artist, photographer, environmental activist and builder of canopy walkways. As a child, he spent hundreds of hours bird watching in his home state of Massachusetts. During his high school years, he volunteered at the Manomet Bird Observatory in Mass., learning to band birds and then left college, so that he could work at the bird observatory full time, first as an intern, banding birds and conducting the observatory's fall sea watch program, then as a research assistant with its shorebird project. Paul has also worked as a biologist/photographer for the Canadian Wildlife Service. He has done extensive research and photography in both Central and South America, especialy in the Brazilian Pantanal and also leads birding tours.

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