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Searching for a tall leggy Brazilian beauty

 

 

Wild adventures in Piaui and the Pantanal

 

 

20th of August to 3rd of September 2016

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Tall and tan and young and lovely the girl from ... although the thought of sitting in a cafe in Rio drinking coffee or maybe caipirinhas, watching beautiful Carioca girls, walking down to the beach has considerable appeal, the girl from Ipanema was not the object of my quest.

 

Instead as I'm sure most will have guessed, the Brazilian beauty I was searching for, while certainly foxy, albeit in a more literal sense has four long legs rather than two. It is commonly known in English as the maned wolf and while not the weirdest of South America’s weird and wonderful creatures, it is nonetheless an odd beast. Its name in Guarani is aguará guazú meaning ‘big fox’ this gave rise to its common bilingual Brazilian name, Lobo-guara ‘wolf-fox’ but of course it is actually neither. In appearance it does look very fox like, but its resemblance is not really to the foxes of South America, but to the red fox of Eurasia and North America, in colouration at least. The maned wolf’s most obvious feature is its very long legs, it is the world’s tallest wild canine, this has led to it being nicknamed ‘a fox on stilts’ ,this is clearly an adaption to living in grassland. Of course, as its name suggests, it does have a mane which it can erect when threatened to make itself appear larger.

 

Although referred to as a wolf, it is remarkably un-wolf like in its behaviour, being solitary and very timid and while clearly a carnivore, perhaps more than half of its diet compromises vegetable matter. Especially fruit, its favourite food is the wolf apple Solanum lycocarpum. However, it does put its large ears and pointed snout to good use catching rodents and rabbits and other small mammals and will take birds. Primarily it hunts at night and at dawn and dusk resting during the day, this combined with its solitary and timid nature, makes it a very difficult animal to see in the wild.

 

Maned wolves occur in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and the far southeast corner of Peru and formerly Uruguay where the species may be extinct. However by far the largest part of its range is in Brazil south of the Amazon Rainforest, in the savannas known as the Cerrado and in the Pantanal. Brazil is therefore the obvious country to visit to go and look for one, but on a typical trip certainly if you were just going to the Pantanal, you’d have to be extremely lucky to see one. The most you can possibly hope for, is to chance upon one and catch a glimpse of it as it runs away.

 

One place where you do have a very good chance of seeing one, is Emas National Park in Goias and Matto Grosso do Sul. The habitat in this park is predominantly open grassland, so if one is out and about, you have reasonable chance of spotting it. However, you still need a lot of luck, to be almost certain of seeing one, you have to go to somewhere where wolves have been habituated. For some years most tourists have visited the Monastery at Serra da Canastra, where the monks put out scraps of meat every night to feed the wolves. This was regarded as the best place to see maned wolves, but apparently they no longer come quite so often, after it was decided to put radio collars on them, (I don’t know for absolutely certain that this is true).

 

In the last few years, another site with habituated wolves has emerged in the recently created Parnaiba Headwaters National Park, which straddles the borders of the states of Bahia, Piaui, maranhão and Tocantins. It was to this park and the so called ‘Wolf Camps’ that we decided to go, to find our maned wolf. Mainly because In addition to an almost guaranteed view of a wolf, we would also have the chance to view bearded capuchin monkeys cracking palm nuts and get a close up view of some hyacinth macaws. We hoped to see other wildlife as well and also have a bit of an adventure, in a part of Brazil that very few other tourists ever visit. From this little known corner of Brazil we would move on to the more familiar territory of the Pantanal, in search of more of Brazil’s weird and wonderful wildlife.

 

Not wanting to give too much away, I decided not include any photos in this part, to make up for it I thought I would add some music. This version of Brazil’s best known song, is by Bebel Gilberto, daughter of the famous João Gilberto who pioneered Bossa Nova music and played guitar and sang on the original recording.

 

 

One last thing before I start the main report. Since I mentioned caipirinhas at the start, for the benefit of anyone who has not yet visited Brazil, a caipirinha is Brazil’s best known cocktail. It’s classically made with crushed lime, sugar, ice and cachaça a type of rum made from fermented cane juice, that is Brazil’s national drink. If you visit Brazil you have to sample a caipirinha or two, it’s a very nice drink, but every mix is slightly different, so if you’re given a jug, it pays to be a little cautious, if you don’t want to end up under the table.

Edited by inyathi
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@@inyathi oh goody, a report from the camps in Parnaiba HeadwatersNP!

 

I will follow this report very closely as I have looked at this a couple of times in the past myself. I will be particularly interested in any comments you have about wildlife management/interaction ethics as well as the company's environmental ethos.

 

Another TR from the watery wonderland of the Pantanal is always good reading.

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Haha... good start. Well done and a worthy object of your lust.

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Interesting start!

 

My wife was lucky enough to see one "lobo-guara" at Barranco Alto, seven or eight years ago, during a horse ride. Since then, they do not have seen one again yet. It's as elusive as the bush dog (the one with four legs).

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Nice, amusing and informative introduction...very interested to see how this turns out!

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Although the major focus of my last trip to Brazil (Birds, Beasts and Big Waters) was to see jaguars and giant otters, that trip was essentially a birding trip, organised with the company Tropical Birding. This trip was much more of a general wildlife tour, with more of a focus on mammals than birds and was organised by Naturetrek.

 

All photos and videos in the this report were taken by myself using a Canon EOS 50D + 15-85mm lens, an EOS 70D + 100-400mm mk II lens and a Bushnell Trophy Cam.

 

This map shows the rough location of Parnaiba Headwaters National Park (PHNP) and the area of the Pantanal.

 

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The Wolf Camps at PHNP, are operated by Charlie Munn’s ecotourism company SouthWild and are located in the state of Piaui, this was known to the early colonists as ‘beyond nowhere’. This name is probably a reflection of the fact, that despite having some coastline, the state was actually founded and colonised from inland. In the 17th century by Brazilians brave enough to venture into what was largely empty and hostile wilderness known as the sertão. When I say empty, there were of course indigenous Amerindian tribes, they sadly did not survive there are no indigenous tribes left in Piaui now, only their mixed race descendants. Beyond nowhere is perhaps an apt description of this state in the north east of Brazil, as it is hardly on the regular tourist map of the country, getting there and to the Wolf Camps is quite a journey.

 

Generally international flights to Brazil arrive in São Paulo, from there you have to fly on to Barreiras de Bahia, however, there are no direct flights to Barreiras from São Paulo, so normally you would go via Brasilia or Salvador. Leaving London in the evening on the 19th of August, meant arriving in São Paulo early in the morning on the 20th of August and this meant that we would have to fly via Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais. Barreiras is fairly nondescript agricultural city, that has developed largely as a result of the soya boom, it is not really in any sense a tourist town and certainly not somewhere, I would have chosen to visit if I hadn’t had to. The flight from London to São Paulo on British Airways is roughly 11 hours, the onward flight to Belo Horizonte on Azul, was going to be around 1 hour 20 and then on again with Azul to Barreiras another 2 hours 20, with a few hours of waiting between flights. Then, after that it would be at least a 4 and a half hour drive to get to camp. This journey is usually done all in one go, but we decided that this would prove to be altogether far too tiring, sleeping well through the night on flights, is an art that I have not yet mastered. I didn’t expect to get much sleep between London and São Paulo and for this reason we opted to stay the night in Barreiras.

 

20th August

 

Azul as one of the main internal airlines in Brazil, provides a very satisfactory service, but obviously as their flights are only short, the only food they offer are snacks. The menu consisted of a selection of the following, potato crisps (chips in the US) or what I refer to as edible packaging material, a sort of puffed snack that closely resembles the pieces of polystyrene used to pack fragile items, only with less flavour, a small cake, a packet of mini guava (goiaba) roll biscuits, mini cookies, cheese snacks, nuts and a packet of jelly aeroplanes. Not exactly the healthiest of food in any sense and even with one of everything, certainly not a satisfying meal, so we opted to have lunch between flights, at the airport in Belo Horizonte.

 

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Barrieras de Bahia in Brazil by inyathi, on Flickr

 

At Barreiras, we were met by our very nice and excellent guide for the next few days Rafael Teixeira. He is one of the best guides in Brazil and one of the main guides for the Wolf Camps, so he knows the area extremely well, although his home base is in Goias, somewhere not far from Brasilia. He is extremely knowledgeable and as well as knowing the birds, is something of an expert on plants. The airport is only small and sits on top of a cliff/plateau above the town, thi makes flying in and out a bit more interesting, if you have a window seat.

 

After collecting our bags, we were taken by taxi to the Hotel Morubixaba which I nicknamed the Moribund Hotel, only because my grasp of Brazilian pronunciation is not that good. In a small off the beaten track city like Barreiras, the choice of hotels is inevitably rather limited and I suspect that the 3 star Morubixaba, is probably the best there is. For a one night stop it suited our needs perfectly, the rooms all on the ground floor curiously have no windows at all, however, as our intention was purely to relax until dinner and then have an early night it hardly mattered. With no reason to go out of the hotel into the town, there was nothing else to do except relax in our rooms. The hotel does not have a swimming pool, should one want one, nor really any garden except for a small enclosed area with a few plants next to the dining room. We didn't mind, we were quite happy just to catch up on some sleep, in an air-conditioned room.

 

I would like to say that the food at the hotel was very good, because the piece of beef I had was excellent as you might expect in Brazil, but it was served with plain rice and so called gourmet potatoes, these were basically slightly undercooked potato wedges. It seems to be common in Brazil to serve both chips/fries and rice with a meal, something I find slightly odd. I’d rather have one or the other, but not both at once, I’m sure there are other countries where they do the same. The buffet breakfast as we would discover in the morning was very good.

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21st August

 

At the Wolf Camps if you want alcohol, they can offer you beer and of course caipirinha, provided they have enough ice, but not wine, so if you want wine with your meals, you have to buy it in Barreiras and take it with you. On Rafael’s advice, in the morning after boarding our minibus, we headed for a supermarket on the edge of town, this proved to be a huge wholesale market, which sold anything you could possibly want, in enormous quantities. We stocked up on some bottles of wine and a few snacks for the long drive. Since Piaui is very hot, if you are going to buy wine, you need to make sure even if it’s red, that they keep it in the fridge, otherwise it will be completely undrinkable.

 

I never learned why, but curiously there was a large Statue of Liberty just across from the car park, one of I believe several such statues in Brazil. There are so I’ve discovered from Google, Statues of Liberty in lots of countries around the world, not being much of a city person New York is not high on my bucket list, so I’ve never seen the most famous version.

 

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Statue of Liberty

 

Having obtained our essential supplies, we drove north through Bahia and on into Piaui, the road is pretty much straight all the way and passes through endless miles of Cerrado and ranch land and is not the most exciting of drives.

 

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Neverending road the drive north from Barrieras

 

The windows of the bus were tinted, but not as dark as is often the case with minibuses in Brazil, so we were able to see out of the side windows and not just the windscreen. Although the tinting did add an extra challenge to taking photos, through the windows as we were driving. Not that there was really that much of interest to look at or photograph, most of the time, although at one point, we did spot a flock of greater rheas in a field. We also very briefly got stuck behind a couple of vaqueiros (cowboys), driving a herd of the ubiquitous brahma cattle that are so common in Brazil.

 

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Passing a herd of cows on the road

 

After roughly four hours of driving, we pulled into a car park in the little town of São Gonçalo de Gurguéia and disembarked from our bus.

 

Since I think few if anyone here is familiar with this part of Brazil, here's another map illustrating our journey from São Paulo, the two flights are marked in yellow.

 

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Most of the onward journey to the first of the so called Wolf Camps would be on dirt/sand roads, we therefore needed to switch to the camp vehicle. This is an open truck with wooden inward facing bench seats in the back, we were equipped with cushions so it wasn’t too uncomfortable.

 

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Transport to Wolf Camp, São Gonçalo de Gurgueia

 

Our driver and host for the next few days was the deputy mayor of the town and local cattle rancher/farmer Lourival Lima, with the help of his family he runs the Wolf Camps. We arrived at our first camp in time for lunch by which time it had got very hot. Neither Lourival nor any of his family speaks much if any English as far as I could tell, but Rafael’s English is excellent so communication was never a problem. You wouldn’t come here without a guide and they should speak English and possibly other languages besides Portuguese, communication shouldn’t therefore be an issue.

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This camp is often referred to as Wolf Valley Camp, but it’s also known as Hyacinth Valley Camp, I shall refer to it by the latter name, as this is a better name and will avoid confusion, with the second camp known as Wolf Cliffs.

 

In anticipation of the fact that I would probably write this report, it was my intention to take photos of the camp, even if I wasn't writing a report I would usually take such photos. But somehow, I managed to leave without doing so; however, I will be including photos of the next camp, it is very much the same, just much more spread out. The camp in a clearing in the dry Cerrado woodland, consists of seven little bungalows each with a bedroom and simple ensuite bathroom. The bedrooms are very basic with a couple of beds, a bedside table, a table and chair and some hooks on the wall for hanging clothes. The windows are just simple wooden shutters, with no fly screens, because in theory there are no mosquitoes. The camp does have electricity, supplied by a generator between around 18:30 and 22:00 (as I recall) and there is a socket in the bedroom and one in the bathroom, so you can recharge batteries in your room. There are also sockets in the dining room that you can use. The dining room is entirely open, it’s just a simple covered area of concrete with a long dining table and a serving table; as this is a very dry part of Brazil, there’s no danger of rain in the dry season.

 

I may not have photographed the camp but I did take a shot of this beautiful tree on the edge of the camp.

 

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I think this purple flowered tree is Bowdichia virigilioides known as sucupira-preta, but I’m not absolutely certain.

 

On beyond the dining room, away from the bungalows is little farmhouse style building, containing the kitchen and I imagine staff quarters. It has a veranda with various comfortable chairs, looking out at a small mango tree, with a much larger one behind it. In front of these trees is bird table, fruit is put out constantly throughout the day and water is also provided close by in metal dish, sunk into the top of a log. As a result there is almost permanent activity during the day, with all sorts of birds coming in to feed and drink. A troop of common marmosets, are also frequent visitors and are liable to come in at any time of day. The veranda is therefore a great place to sit and take photos, or to sit and read a book, in between watching the wildlife.

 

While you’re in the camp itself, there isn’t really anything else do during siesta time. The idea with the rooms is to keep the shutters closed during the day, to stop the heat getting in. Then at night you open the shutters to let the cooler air in and any heat out. If you retire to your room during siesta time and leave the shutters closed then the room is a little dark and it is still a bit hot. Unless you want to go sleep, there is in my view little merit in staying in the room. I inevitably spent most my time on the veranda, watching the bird table, trying to photograph the birds and monkeys. The marmosets put in their first appearance, while we were just finishing lunch, soon after our arrival. This species also known as the white-tufted ear marmoset (Callithrix jacchus).is naturally restricted to the northeast of Brazil, but several introduced populations have become established elsewhere in the country.

 

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Common Marmoset

 

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A selection of some of the common birds that came in.

 

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Silvery-beaked tanager

 

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Sayaca tanager

 

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Scarlet-throated tanager

 

This bird is endemic to north eastern Brazil, although called a tanager, it most probably isn’t, but which family it actually belongs to, is yet to be determined for certain. It lives in small flocks and only dominant adult males like this one, have the scarlet throat, younger males are all black like the females.

 

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Buff-throated saltator

 

This cardinal species is another largely northeastern bird.

 

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Red-cowled cardinal

 

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Curl-crested Jay

 

Another beautiful bird, that we spotted a few times from camp and did come to the food was the campo troupial, but it wouldn’t come out into the open, when I was there with my camera. This species has quite a wide distribution in the eastern half of Brazil, so it was a new bird for me.

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Just beside the dining room, were some fresh wolf tracks indicating that a maned wolf, had been around the camp sometime during the previous night. We took this as a good sign, though I thought it was unlikely that we would actually see this wolf, however, if I didn’t spot the wolf my Bushnell Trophy Cam might. On my last safari to Zakouma NP in Chad I had taken a Little Acorn trail cam and got amazing results, that camera sadly died after only a year of use. Although it had been a very good camera, when looking for a replacement I decided to try a Bushnell. I strapped it to a wooden pillar on the veranda, so that it was looking towards the bird table, in the hope that the wolf might come looking for fruit during the night.

 

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Maned wolf spoor

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Hyacinth macaws

 

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The reason this camp should be called Hyacinth Valley Camp, not Wolf Valley as Naturetrek and others call it, is because just 2kms away in another clearing in the woodland, is a hide for viewing hyacinth macaws. After some siesta time we were driven down to the hide, it's a short walk from the road and access is via a long tunnel made from branches.

 

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If you're seriously keen to get great shots you could be sat in the hide for some time so there is a loo off to the side halfway along the tunnel should you need to go during your visit. The hide itself is a concrete bunker with what could be referred to as port holes at the front and on the sides just above ground level. The holes are covered with circles of canvas that have to be hooked up out of the way when you want to look out. Simple stools are provided if you want to sit down. Out in front of the hide is a dead tree which provides a perfect perch for the macaws, their favourite food of palm nuts are scattered around underneath to attract them down to the ground.

 

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The hyacinth macaw hide

 

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We were given strict instructions to keep quiet and not to put our hands out through the holes or to push camera lenses out, as this could frighten the birds. The macaws are nervous birds and with very good reason, on the black market, these birds are worth a huge amount of money. The greatest threat to their survival alongside habitat destruction, is trapping for the illegal pet trade.

 

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Usually it is the chicks that are targeted; when a nest is found, the tree usually an old palm, will be cut down, so that the chicks can be taken. This delivers a double blow to the macaws, as aside from reducing the population due to the loss of their chicks, it destroys valuable nest trees. In the Pantanal the macaw’s main stronghold, this is a big problem because they only nest in trees and the right trees with suitable sized holes are increasingly hard to come by. Fortunately, here in southern Piaui, they also nest in crevices up on the cliffs, indeed they now nest almost entirely on the cliffs, because so many of their nest trees have been destroyed and raiding cliff nests is much harder. Adult birds are also targeted, the principal method is to clear a patch of bush, keep it open by burning and then put down palm nuts to attract the macaws down to the ground and then fire a net over them.

 

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In piaui the trapping of hyacinth macaws, has been a huge problem and I believe that they have largely disappeared further north in the state. I should point out at this stage (for those who haven’t already read about the Wolf Camps) that our host and driver Lourival, used to be an animal trapper. This is a hard part of Brazil to make a living in, Piaui is one of the poorest states, so you have to make money how you can and in the past Lourival did so by trapping macaws and other wildlife for the illegal trade. As I mentioned earlier, the camps here are part of Charlie Munn’s Southwild and it was really these macaws and their fate that brought Mr Munn to this area, here’s a link to a report co-written by Mr Munn.

 

Report on the Hyacinth Macaw in the Audubon Wildlife Report

 

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As I understand it, the whole area surrounding Hyacinth Valley Camp, extending into the Parque Nacional Nascentes do Rio Parnaiba/Parnaiba Headwaters NP, around Wolf Cliffs is a protected reserve bought by the BioBrasil Foundation, which Mr Munn founded. He has worked to end the illegal pet trade and his intention in establishing the ‘Wolf Camps’, was to bring tourism to this remote area and provide an alternative income to ex-trappers like Lourival. To prove that there is more money in wildlife tourism, than in the illegal wildlife trade.

 

 

We visited the hide again on our last afternoon in Piaui, so the video contains footage from both visits to the hide.

 

Since Piaui is very dry, the sky is always clear ensuring that you have perfect light and the entire set up, is designed to guarantee that you can take perfect photos, if that is, you know what you’re doing. What you see from the hide is essentially a photographic set, the dead tree has been placed there as a perch. After they first put the dead tree in, some visiting professional photographers, were asked what they thought and they said it didn’t look at all natural. With the photographers help the tree was repositioned, so that it does now look almost entirely natural. Does it really matter, that the scene is not really natural? I don’t think it does, clearly the point is that tourists need to have a very good reason, to come and see hyacinth macaws here, because they could just go and see them in the Pantanal instead. If it brings tourists and helps save the macaws, then that has to be a good thing.

 

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After our visit to the hide, we opted to walk back to the camp, on the way we found fresh wolf tracks on the road, actually on top of our vehicle tracks. It was nice to know that there was a maned wolf very close by, even though we never saw it. Very likely it was the same wolf, that had wondered through the camp the night before. We left the hide just before dusk, so it was getting dark by the time we arrived back in camp.

Edited by inyathi
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@@inyathi i'm along for the ride to seek the tall sleek leggy Brazilian beauty and I do hope you got luck and saw at least one.

 

that truck transport is so old world - very charming and nostalgic!

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22nd August

 

Nut cracking monkeys

 

The plan for our first full day was to go and see the nut cracking bearded capuchins in the morning, return to camp for lunch and then move on to the next camp Wolf Cliffs.

 

Before describing our visit to the monkeys, I will confess at this point to being a little unsure of the exact location of the capuchin troop that we visited. On Naturetrek’s website the itinerary for their equivalent tour, states the following

 

Quote

SouthWild Wolf Valley Camp; excursion to ‘Nutcracker Monkey’ Valley

 

Today we will rise about an hour before sunrise, have a refreshing snack of coffee, tea and bananas and drive to ‘Nutcracker Monkey’ Valley (NMV); the journey takes under 2 hours by road. Upon reaching NMV, about an hour after sunrise, local guides will escort us to one of the world’s two visible troops of Bearded Capuchins (Cebus libidinosus) to observe their unique hammer-rock use at close range; this is the world’s most complex tool use by a non-ape species. The monkeys select, bring from afar, and wield, special igneous rocks as hammers to crack palm nuts on softer, sandstone ‘anvil’ rocks. This surprising tool use was first discovered and documented in National Geographic in 2001 by Dr. Charles Munn, a conservation biologist. The monkey’s tool use behaviour is now being studied by a multi-national team of researchers. By arriving at this time we will have the best chance of witnessing the day’s ‘early show’ of nut-cracking; and their ‘early show’ is the best one of the day!

 

After viewing the monkeys, we will have a - substantial - mid-morning snack, chat with our local hosts at NMV, and then drive to SouthWild Wolf Valley Camp, aiming to arrive back by midday, in time for lunch and a siesta/leisure time.

 

 

I was therefore expecting that we would have to get up extra early and leave after just a quick snack, however, this was not what happened at all. I got up at first light about 06:00ish, purely in the hope of spotting birds around the camp and then went to sit on the veranda to watch the bird table.

 

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Red-cowled cardinals

 

We then had a proper breakfast and left camp, at I think around 07:30 it may have been a bit later. My understanding is that Nutcracker Monkey Valley, is somewhere to the north close to the town of Gilbués. However, I’m pretty sure that where we went was in the opposite direction and very close to São Gonçalo de Gurguéia. I also recall our guide Rafael, pointing out where the monkey site is, on our drive up from Barreiras the day before. So, while I’m not certain, I think we must have been at a different site.

 

After driving just a short distance off the tarred road towards a cliff/hill, we were met by Paulo who is in charge of the monkey show and is a member of Lourival’s family. Paulo and his assistant who’s name I don’t recall, then picked up a couple of sacks of palm nuts and we walked for about five minutes or so up a trail, at one point it is quite steep, but it does have a wooden handrail. We then sat down, a short distance from what were quite clearly the anvil rocks that the monkeys crack the nuts on, the monkeys though, were nowhere to be seen. We were sat in a little dry wooded valley, with quite a large cliff/hill behind us and a small hill in front, behind the monkey’s anvils. Going on up the valley the trees and other vegetation was a good deal thicker, so you couldn’t see, much further beyond where we were sitting.

 

What followed as a wildlife experience, was almost the polar opposite, of watching the macaws eating their palm nuts. Not only were we sat right out in the open and not in a hide, but there was no question of having to keep quite. Like us, it seemed that the monkeys had had a lie in and were entirely unaware that their breakfast nuts had arrived. While we patiently sat and waited, Lourival’s team attempted to call the monkeys in, with lots of shouting and banging. This appeared to have no effect at all; we had to content ourselves with watching some of the birds, that came to drink. A tin had been nailed to a tree and this was filled with some water, that had been carried up with the nuts. Some bits of fruit had also been put out to attract birds.

 

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Squirrel cuckoo

 

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Burnished-buff tanager

 

When nearly a whole hour had passed, we really started to think that the monkeys weren’t going to come at all. Aside from wanting to see the wolf, seeing these monkeys, was one of the major reasons for coming up here, we would be more than a little disappointed, if we didn’t see them. If they didn’t show, then we might have to consider cutting short our time at Wolf Cliffs in order to try again another time.

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I wasn’t actually seriously concerned that the monkeys wouldn’t come; I was just getting a little doubtful as time passed. I hadn’t expected to have to wait so long, if only because, I’d thought you needed to get up early to see the monkeys, well clearly not. My minor doubts were unfounded, eventually at some time just before 09:30, the first monkey appeared in the trees in front of us, before long more of them started arriving. Clearly these capuchins keep different hours to the ones, that like to crack their nuts at dawn.

 

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Palm nuts from the sacks were duly deposited, for the monkeys to pick through, the capuchins take the nuts and tap them on the rock or against a tree, this allows them to determine if they’ve picked a good nut and how to place it to keep it stable. From countless use, the anvil rocks have little pits in them, the nuts are placed in the pits the right way up to try and ensure they don’t just fly off when they are hit. They then pick up a hammer stone with both hands, stand up on their hind legs and bring it down on the nut with considerable force. Given that the monkeys are really pretty small, the hammer stones in comparison must be seriously heavy. That they are able to lift them, the way that they do and carry them is remarkable. Rafael had named the large male and leader of the troop Paulo, after the real Paulo who had delivered them their nuts.

 

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Alpha male Paulo

 

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According to Rafael what the monkeys are really looking for when they select a nut, is one that has a big fat juicy insect grub inside it and they much prefer to eat these grubs than the actual nuts. I wasn’t tempted to try one and see what it tasted like.

 

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Paulo the monkey was clearly a very experienced nut cracker, some of his offspring, hadn’t entirely mastered the technique and needed to watch and learn.

 

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This youngster was having a good go.

 

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We sat, watched, photographed and filmed the monkeys, for the best part of an hour. As well as cracking nuts the monkeys would go and drink from the tin and the youngsters mostly, would clamber about in the trees, sometimes right above our heads.

 

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Trying to get the best photos of the action is not that easy to really capture the nut cracking you need take video.

 

 

Occasionally on the cliff behind us a rock cavy (kerodon rupestris), would put in an appearance, this rodent looks a little like a cross between a guinea pig and a rock hyrax and is endemic to this region of Brazil. Unfortunately, they moved too fast for me to photograph them, they’re not endangered, but due to their restricted range, I suspect very few have ever been photographed in the wild. When the monkeys had very largely drifted away, we asked if it was possible to go for a bit of a climb up the hill. Scrambling along the bottom of the cliff, behind where we had been sitting, we negotiated our way around and out on to the hillside, that looks out over the road below. After just a few minutes, having not climbed very far at all, we found a suitable viewpoint and were treated to a pretty spectacular view. The climb was not at all difficult, but the rock was pretty loose and flaky, so we had to be wary of what we were trying to hold on to.

 

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After taking a few photos, we went back down and as there were still a few monkeys present, we stayed with them for a little bit longer. However, it was by now very hot, so soon after 11:00 we walked back down to the truck.

 

Even for very smart, intelligent, omnivorous animals like capuchin monkeys, finding sufficient food all the year round in the cerrado is a challenge, unlike in the rainforest. They have to be able to exploit every potential food source and it is this challenge of finding enough food, that likely led the monkeys, to work out how to crack palm nuts. The anvil rocks they were using are quite obviously immovable, had our guides not delivered the nuts for them, the monkeys would have had to bring their own nuts to the anvils. As we discovered from our short climb the natural rock of the cliffs is flaky sandstone, quite useless for using as hammers. The monkeys had clearly found their hard heavy hammer stones elsewhere, from their appearance they'd clearly come from a riverbed and been carried by the monkeys up to their anvils. This is quite a feat given the size and weight of these stones.

 

Archaeological excavation of nut cracking sites in Serra da Capivara NP, further north in Piaui has shown that capuchins have been cracking nuts this way for at least 700 years. In that park they are predominantly cracking open cashew nuts. This is one of the only examples in the world of archaeology, revealing the history of an animal culture. Remarkably the use of tools by Brazil’s bearded capuchins, wasn’t actually confirmed by scientists until 2004.

 

Oldest Non-Human Stone Tools Outside Africa Created by Monkeys

 

Watching these monkeys cracking nuts, is an extraordinary wildlife experience. There is an artificial aspect to it, in that they have not gathered the nuts themselves and this might bother some wildlife purists. But you will likely have only one chance to see this, during your stay and if the capuchins were not supplied with nuts, the likelihood is that you wouldn’t even see the monkeys, let alone the nut cracking. And what you are seeing is natural behaviour and the palm nuts (and the grubs) are part of their natural diet.

 

These were the only capuchins we saw, while we here in Piaui, the only other monkeys we saw, were the common marmosets back in the camp. We didn’t see any other marmosets, while we were here and the ones we did see, we only really saw, because they were coming down for the fruit that was put out for them and for the birds. There is a third species of monkey in this area, the black and gold howler monkey, I hadn’t actually realised this until I heard them calling at dawn while in camp. While we heard them we never saw them, I assume they stick to areas of riverine forest where there are more evergreen trees, they’re certainly not an animal, I would expect to find in the dry woodland. Whether we might have been able to find them, had we gone to look for them, I’m not sure, but this is the same species that occurs in the Pantanal, so I hoped I might see them there.

 

On the way back to camp we stopped in the town and bought some cold drinks.

Edited by inyathi
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Excellent TR so far. Love the travel descriptions.
Great post on macaws, it's quite sad to learn of the extent of their loss at the hands of the pet trade of these very charming birds. Quite a funny picture of them all stuffing down nuts though!
Also liked the landscape picture. Fascinating at how dry and different it is from the Pantanal. Eager for more!

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Fascinating report, not an area of Brazil I'm familiar with. Interesting how the Hyacinths here are so much more skittish than in the Pantanal; certainly no need to view them from a hide there as they are very much out in the open and used to people--perhaps they don't have quite the history there of poaching like they do in this area.

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@janzin I think it’s probably the case, that the poaching of macaws in Piaui has been worse, simply because it has gone on for much longer. Poaching was a big problem in the Pantanal, but conservation efforts in the Pantanal started much earlier and a lot of effort has been put in, to persuading the ranchers to protect the wildlife, including the macaws. For the hyacinths this has paid off, ranchers like the macaws and in recent years have made it clear to the bird trappers, that they’re not welcome. Poaching therefore isn’t the problem that it once was, but there is still another problem.

 

 

The macaws have plenty of food, as the ranchers don’t tend cut down palm trees, because their cattle eat the fruits, what they don’t have is plenty of nest trees. In the Pantanal 90% of nests are in manduvi trees (Sterculia apetala), to improve their pastures ranchers cut down a lot of the big trees, so many of the manduvis that the macaws used to nest in our gone.

 

 

Also one obvious difference between the two areas, is that tourism has been well established in the Pantanal for quite a few years now. All of the macaws on tourist properties, have been protected for a long time, therefore these birds have had plenty of time, to become habituated and no longer see people as a threat. Seeing these macaws are one of the things tourists come for, so I presume that tourist properties not only protect the birds, but also their manduvi trees ensuring that the macaws have places to nest.

 

 

I would guess, that on ranches that are not in the tourist business, macaws even if they’re not under threat may still be a bit wary of people. Also there may not be so many of them, if their nest trees have been cut down. Visiting the Pantanal, you perhaps get a false impression of how well the macaws are doing, because you’re only visiting tourist properties, where the macaws are well looked after. You don’t see what the situation is elsewhere, where tourists don’t go. To compensate for the loss of nest trees, on some properties they have been trying out nest boxes, with I think some success.

 

 

On my last trip I got very close to some hyacinths in the garden of the Porto Jofre/Pantanal North Hotel, as you say you certainly don’t need a hide in the Pantanal. Inevitably in SouthWild’s marketing, because they are in competition with the Pantanal, they have tried to give the impression that you will get much better photos from the hide. They don’t actually claim this as such, but I think it’s implied. Obviously it isn’t necessarily true; but the hide does have an advantage, from the point of view of photographing them feeding on the ground, in that you are just above ground level. However, in the Pantanal, I did get down on the ground, to photograph the ones at the hotel, at the time I was behind a fence, which I suppose isn’t too different from being in a hide and did allow me to get very close. The macaws though, were on lush green grass which is perhaps rather less natural looking.

 

 

 

Hyacinth Macaw

 

From the hide I did okay photographing the macaws feeding, but I didn’t do so well, with getting them coming into land when they drop down from the tree or when they’re flying in. Getting ground level shots of the macaws coming in to land, with their wings spread out, is I would think probably quite difficult in the Pantanal.

 

 

Also I think that a bit earlier in year, in July you can get much bigger flocks coming to the hide, it may be that you can see much larger numbers together, than in the Pantanal. However, I haven’t necessarily been to the best places in the Pantanal to photograph hyacinths, so I don’t know how big, some of the flocks can get there. I guess it depends what kind of photos, you want to get, we were told that one visiting parrot fanatic, spent virtually two whole days in the hide just photographing the macaws.

 

 

Of course, if you’re not a parrot fanatic, you don’t just come up here for the macaws. I’d already come pretty close to the real object of my quest, but not close enough, preparing to leave Hyacinth Valley I hoped to soon put that right.

Edited by inyathi
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After a good lunch back at Hyacinth Valley Camp, I spent my siesta time watching the marmosets and the birds from the veranda.

 

 

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Chalk-browed mockingbird

 

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White woodpeckers

 

 

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I’d seen one of these striking woodpeckers on my last trip, but hadnot been able to get photographs, so I was pleased to find they are very common here.

 

 

 

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Palm and sayaca tanager

 

Despite Lourival kindly putting some fruit down in front of my trail cam, when I checked it I saw, that no wolf passed in front of it, during the night. I removed it, hoping I’d have better luck at Wolf Cliffs.

 

 

 

Edited by inyathi
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Wolf Cliffs and Parnaiba Headwaters National Park

 

 

It’s not a particularly long drive out to Wolf Cliffs Camp and this region is very hot certainly in the dry season, so there’s little point in leaving too early, I would think we didn't leave until about 15:30. The drive is beautiful passing through dry woodland and areas of open grassland and marsh often set against a backdrop of red sandstone cliffs that are typical of this area.

 

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Rafael closing the gate this is still very much cattle country.

 

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Along the way we stopped by an area of marsh, with lots of palm trees to look at some king vultures, there were also a good few black vultures, indicating that there was perhaps something dead there. Maybe the carcass of a cow or something, Lourival went to take a look but found nothing. The palms growing in these marshy areas, make great nest trees for macaws, when the trees die and the crown has gone, the birds dig down into the top of the trunk, to create a nest hollow. The main species, nesting here in the palms is the blue and yellow macaw we watched them emerging from their nest holes and also flying around.

 

 

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Blue and yellow macaw

 

 

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In the open grassland, we occasionally came across red-legged seriemas, a bird somewhat reminiscent of Africa’s secretary bird, I wasn’t able to photograph one on this trip. In the dry woodland, we stopped to photograph a great potoo, the camouflage of these birds is so extraordinary, you need eagle-eyes to spot one, or you need to know which tree it lives in. While sat on its nest, this nocturnal bird was doing an expert impersonation of a dead snag, however Rafael and Lourival, know that it lives in this particular tree. Every time they drive this way, they stop to check if it’s there.

 

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Great Potoo

Edited by inyathi
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Those stones used by the monkeys are (relatively) huge. And the Great Potoo is such an amazing bird. I'm a bit hooked on this now thanks to the wolf traces, even though I know you are going to see one. It's the way you tell them.

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Towlersonsafari

what a thrill to actually see the capuchins using the tools! @@inyathi very much enjoying your report

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It was almost five o clock by the time we reached the camp at Wolf Cliffs, just as we were driving in, we were unexpectedly greeted by the lovely Johanna, who suddenly appeared from behind a bush. Showing off her long slender black-stockinged legs, she strode out of the bush and walked across the road in front of us. She was every bit as beautiful as I had hoped; I had found my ‘leggy Brazilian beauty’. Johanna is of course a maned wolf, one of several that is resident in the area around the camp.

 

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My tall leggy Brazilian beauty Johanna

 

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Not quite the perfect backdrop

 

We soon learned why she was here, after we had disembarked from the truck, Lourival started throwing tasty titbits in Johannas direction. Though she appeared very slightly nervous, she was happy to walk around in front of us picking up the food, while we took endless photographs.

 

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The trick of course, was to try and keep Johanna, in this area at the edge of camp, so we could get our photos with a nice natural backdrop. This place is called Wolf Cliffs for a good reason, so it was particularly nice to get some shots with the cliffs.

 

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The perfect backdrop

 

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We were very lucky to see Johanna like this, while it was still light; being mostly nocturnal she and any other local wolves that come to camp, normally visit after dark. All maned wolves look very much the same, that is they don’t have any obvious distinguishing features, that make it possible to tell individual wolves apart, just by sight. Other than obviously being able to tell males from females, really the only way you can tell them apart, is based on their behaviour. Lourival and his family know Johanna and some of the other wolves and identify them, by how they behave, individual wolves have different characters. We were able to watch Johanna for a good half hour, an amazing and entirely unexpected start, to our stay at Wolf Cliffs.

 

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With ears like these, any rats or mice in the area need to watch out when there’s a wolf around.

 

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The world’s tallest wild dog

 

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Nice legs ;)

 

@@pault I suppose I did say in the introduction that this place offers virtually guaranteed wolf sightings, that did make it a little difficult, to pretend that there was any serious doubt, that I would see one. However, what’s not guaranteed, is that you will see one of these beautiful animals, as well as this in broad daylight.

Edited by inyathi
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Well, that didn't take long. Johanna is a beauty indeed. Great to see a Maned Wolf. Also love the nutcrackers - saw that on TV a couple of times. Very special to see that.

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Before being taken to our own rooms, we were shown an empty room where a pair of tropical screech owls had taken up residence.

 

 

 

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Tropical Screech owl

 

 

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Edited by inyathi
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To keep Johanna coming into camp and any other wolves that might be around, Lourival has hung three plastic buckets, at a suitable height from some trees, these he keeps topped up with fruit and other tasty morsels. I have a metal ground spike for my trail camera and I decided that I should stick it in the ground, facing the buckets for the duration of my stay. This proved to be a good decision.

 

 

 

I think Lourival had forgotten about my camera, when he came out in the middle of the night, not wearing any trousers to replenish the food.

 

 

 

Edited by inyathi
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