Extraordinary wildlife, cattle farming and horseback riding are an integral part of life in the Pantanal – and a horse safari allows you to see this up close.
he carcass was a grisly sight. The remains of the yacare caiman, a South American relative of the alligator, were largely intact bar a fatal gash to its nape, the tell-tale signs of a jaguar attack. It meant the world's third-biggest cat had been there the night before, and I was about to go looking for it.
I was in the north of the Brazilian Pantanal, the largest wetland on the planet, home to a rich variety of animal and plant species. Stretching more than 140,000 sq km across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the annual cycle of rainy and dry seasons governs the land, creating a dynamic mosaic of wetlands, grasslands and forests.
Tens of thousands of tourists flock to the Pantanal each year to fish, spot some of the wetland's 500 bird species and see Brazil's "big five": the giant anteater, the giant otter, the tapir, the maned wolf and the jaguar
the biome's main star. Most visitors join groups on river cruises or in 4X4s for wildlife watching, especially in Porto Jofre, a place renowned for its jaguar sightings.
This time though, I'd swapped the rumbling vehicles for the slow-paced experience of horse riding in a lesser-explored area near a town called Poconé, 146km north of Porto Jofre.
Approximately 90% of the Pantanal is owned by cattle ranchers, dividing most of the wetlands into largely unfenced, extensive farms. The sweeping pastures maintain most of the natural vegetation, where herds of white cattle with thick neck humps roam freely among the Pantanal's wildlife, like the wildebeests in the Serengeti.