All eyes are on Brazil. In World Cup year, you’d expect as much, and with the Olympics to follow in 2016, the country will be centre stage for a long time after the final whistle blows on July’s carnival of football.
But there’s much much more to this massive country – it’s the fifth largest in the world – and more than just football and beaches. This is because beyond the Maracanã and Copacabana, well know to football fans and beach lovers, you’ll find glorious beaches that you’ve never heard of, sprawling cities that speak of the country’s recent extraordinary economic growth and barbecues by the articulated lorry load. However, it’s the biodiversity of the Amazon and the wetlands in the south of the country that make it a unique haven for wildlife.
“You can’t summarise a country like Brazil,” says nature film-maker Adam White, host of Wild Brazil (recently shown on BBC2). “If you were to visit Brazil, there are usually two ways of doing it. You could do a tour and travel round as many places as possible, or you could be invited in and live with a couple of families, imbed yourself, and get a flavour of what it’s like to live in Brazil.” Adam White and his crew do the latter only their hosts are not human – they’re tufted capuchin monkeys, coatis and giant river otters.
In extraordinary footage, the film crews follow these animal families as they grow up, take their first steps, stand on their own two feet against the amazing backdrop that is Brazil.
Above all, it is the close encounters that set this nature documentary apart. Adam White gets to swim in piranha-infested waters, film face-offs with jaguars and giant otters, and accidently stands on four caiman crocodiles – and manages to escape unscathed.
Brazil was one of the first nations to boycott hunting, and, unlike other wildlife-rich nations, hunting is still taboo here. As a result, the animal population is larger, and species don’t fear human observers like they would in other parts of the world. Because of this, the BBC film crew was able to follow capuchin monkeys in Piaui.
The Wild Brazil team witnesses a family of capuchins using stone tools and fashioning sticks to get lizards out of cracks. They’re wonderfully intelligent and they use their equivalent of hammers and anvils to crack open tiny seeds.
There’s a lovely moment when this baby capuchin, named Chocolate, is trying to use a stone tool for the first time and he’s trying to work out what’s more fun – banging it on the earth or banging it on his mate’s head.
Another surprise is that they don’t live in jungles but in canyons.
Meanwhile, in west Brazil, the terrain is utterly different; the wetlands of Pantanal are home to giant otters that are nearly two meters in length. They’re as long as most people are tall and their heads are bigger than a Labrador’s.
These nutrient-rich waters are filled with piranhas, an otter’s favourite dish. There’s lots of food for the otters, but their presence attracts hundreds of predators. In Pantanal, there are more jaguars than anywhere else in the wild, and more caiman crocs than there are people living in London.
Although Adam White admits he can’t possibly show everything Brazil has to offer in three episodes of a TV show, he says, “Wild Brazil can give you this fantastic in-depth look at three unbelievable families living in an extraordinary setting. It will give you a passion for wanting to find out more about the country.”
Here are some of my own favourites:
1 - Iguazu Falls
This incredible natural wonder should be on everyone’s travel list. Great for coatis and bird watching.
2 - Amazon
The largest rainforest on the planet. Manaus is an excellent starting point from which to explore. The best way is to catch one of the riverboats and just let the world’s richest habitat for wildlife float past. Expect incredible birdlife, insects, sloths and monkeys galore.
3 - North Pantanal
One of the greatest places to see wildlife on Earth — allow several days here. There are many lodges along the Transpantaneira Road, all offering amazing wildlife encounters. Expect views of giant otters, caiman, incredible birdlife and — if you’re lucky — jaguar.
4 - South Pantanal
The southern part of the Pantanal offers an equally enthralling, subtly different, experience. Many of the same species are on offer, but you can add giant anteater, capybara, hyacinth macaws, tapir and adorable coatis.
5 - Atlantic Rainforest
Don’t confuse with the Amazon. They’re unconnected and have different animals and plants. This is the lush rainforest that cloaks São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and is one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. You don’t have to travel far from the cities for close encounters with hummingbirds, woolly spider monkeys, tamarins and marmosets.
6 - Emas National Park
Don’t overlook Brazil’s cerrado (grasslands). The Emas and Serra da Capivara reserves are well worth a visit. Find giant anteaters, armadillos, rheas and, if you’re lucky, the beautiful maned wolf. 'The Explorations Company plan ‘Extraordinary Journeys for Extraordinary People’
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