First off, don’t panic! This new Bradt guide to the birds and beasts of South America’s Serengeti isn’t another earnestly weighty academic tome whose presence would leave most travellers only enough luggage space for a pack of chewing gum and a thong. Though its subject is expansive, and all major phyla are featured, Pantanal Wildlife is a slim, concentrated volume, encompassing 200 full-colour photographs and maps, that picks out wildlife highlights in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. Author James Lowen freely admits ‘This book has no pretensions to be a specialised field guide…(it) aims to be a one-stop-shop for wildlife watchers… it looks across the wildlife spectrum, aiming to sate your curiosity about a critter you have just seen – or want to see.’
Pantanal wildlife is hugely diverse: 475 species of birds; 80 reptiles; 50 amphibians; more than 350 fish; and botanists suggest that the 1,700 plant species thus far identified represent only 50% of those present. The Pantanal’s natural history diversity is matched only by its superlative proportions: the jaguar is The Americas’ largest cat; the hyacinth macaw is the world’s largest parrot; the green anaconda is the world’s biggest snake; the South American tapir is the continent’s largest land mammal; and the capybara is the world’s largest rodent.
As well as identification and behaviour, Lowen’s engagingly written text explores Pantanal ecology too – ‘Water – its presence or absence, its ebb or flow – is fundamental to all Pantanal life… If the Amazon jungles provide the continent’s lungs then the Pantanal is the continent’s kidneys.’ Conservation is also discussed, particularly prescient in respect of the Pantanal – an area once solely exploited for fur, feathers and skins before the concept of wildlife tourism grew wings. The guide’s Where to Go section gives practical advice on each region’s wildlife specialities, the best lodges, and how to get around. So whether it’s your wish to bump into a myopic nine-banded armadillo, encounter a crepuscular colony of vampire bats, or get hip to the giant otters’ social scene, Pantanal Wildlife will point the way.
James Lowen returned to South American wildlife during a break from his career drafting environmental policy for the British government. As well as contributing photographs to books, magazines, brochures and websites, Lowen also edits Neotropic Birding, the only publication specialising exclusively in South America birds. His spare time is now occupied with ecotourism consultancy and naturalist guiding aboard expedition cruise ships.
Title: Pantanal Wildlife
Author: James Lowen
Publisher: Bradt Travel Guides
Publication: March 2010
ISBN: 978 1 84162 305 4