Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Horrors and Wonders of the Pampas

First, the worst horror.  Vicious mosquitoes in vast numbers.

 I apologise for the multi-level hideousness of this image but you wouldn´t believe how we suffered!  That backload of mozzie bites was just one morning´s worth.  All done through my T-shirt, under which insecticide was applied frequently.  It was so hot (the attractive drenching of my trousers might be a clue), I couldn´t face wearing a heavy, long-sleeved shirt.  It was 36 degrees Celsuis by 8,30 am, and got hotter and hotter through to mid-afternoon. 

Hence the unflattering handicrafts, issued for sun protection.  But enough whinging, because we were to see fantastic animals and birds in the rivers, swamps and grassland floodplains of the Bolivian pampas.  At the Pampas del Yacuma, we saw loads.

Capybara - the largest species of rodent in the world.

A fully grown adult is about the height of an Alastian, with the build of a pig. It´s like a creature from Eocene Park or something.

Also hundreds of spectacled caimans lurking on the banks and in the water.

On one occasion, we saw a caiman with a capybara.  Or it have might be an ex-brown agouti (another big guinea-pig with long legs).  

MJC averts his gaze from the gore.  It alights on...

..a gorgeous squirrel monkey, peeping through the foilage.

 Our excellent guide Yad at the tiller, taking us deeper into the pampas to discover the likes of Southern Screamers (see previous birds post) and Pink River Dolphins...

Pink River Dolphin..  One of the most extraordinary animals I have ever seen.  We encountered four of them  on our trips up and down the river.  None was much longer than 1.5 metres.  They were a definite, vulnerable-looking pink colour.  Amazing.  This is not a great picture but if you zoom in, you can clearly see its head, eye and elongated snout.  Really hard to photograph as they were only at the surface for a couple of seconds each time and you didn´t know where they were going to surface.  For a better look, either watch this short fabulous National Geographic video
or see the pictures in this article.

We also saw a puma slinking across a dirt track.  It was very brief sighting but still a thrill.  It´s hard for me to think of a place where you have quite the range in evolutionary diversity among mammals (at the higher taxonomic levels) as you do in the neotropical pampas.  You´ve got a cetacean, several primates, two big felines, a canid in the form of the endangered manned wolf, marsupials (opossums), rodents, bats etc.  I am not sure if there are any ungulates in the immediate Pampas del Yacoma ecosystem but there are pampas-dwelling deer elsewhere in Amazonian grassland Bolivia.

This ungulate doesn´t count.  I mean the horse.  MJC was invited to mount this one by its friendly cowboy owner, who we encountered on a dirt road during a punishingly hot morning walk in search of birds.

Two more sinister caimans, lurking by a bridge at the end of this, our final walk in the Pampas del Yacuma. These are the larger Black Caiman (I think).  They grow up to 5 metres.  Wonderful visit, all in all.  Thanks again Bala Tours.

Just before take-off back to La Paz, in the company of 16 other perspiring gringos.  A flight that at times felt more like a ride on the switch-back.   Most were without speech when we landed, and one person took about 5 minutes to get out of their seat, such was their psycho-trauma.

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