Expedition South America – Part 2 – Chile

Approaching the Andes from Brazil.

Approaching the Andes from Brazil.

Through the window of the airplane I see hills approaching as I fly westwards. The hills soon turn into mountains and at one point I think that I am seeing whitish clouds far off in the distance. They are at the same altitude as the airplane I am traveling in. As we approach them further it turns out that they are not clouds. It is the snow-clad peaks of the Andes!

Chile, on the South American west coast, is perhaps the slimmest country in the world. In most places it is only 100 or 200 kilometers from one end to another, east-west. A large part of the country is also made up of the Andes.

I arrive in Santiago on 9 November for part two of the South America expedition. While part one was dedicated to search for and learn about jaguars, part two will be dedicated to Chile and mountains.

From mid November, Sandra works with whale tourism in southernmost Chile.

A cetacean expert in the making, Sandra specializes on these large mammals in the oceans.

The day after, I am kindly shown around the Museum of Natural History in Santiago. The museum has several colocolos (Leopardus colocolo) and kodkods (Leopardus guigna) – two species of cat native to Chile. The kodkod, which is also known as güiña, is the smallest cat of the Americas. The museum also has puma (Puma concolor).

The visit to Santiago is brief as I on 11 November fly to Punta Arenas in southernmost Chile. I fly together with Sandra, who will start working with whales there in a few days. To give you an idea of how far south Punta Arenas is, bear in mind that the city of is located at 54 degrees South. Mainland Antarctica starts at 64 degrees South. Punta Arenas is one of the southernmost cities in the world (in South America only the Argentinian city of Ushuaia is further south).

The crazy cat mob - a Geoffroy's cat (Leopardus geoffroyi) and a colocolo (Leopardus colocolo) at a museum in Punta Arenas.

A Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi) and a colocolo (Leopardus colocolo) at a museum in Punta Arenas. The art of stuffing animals has progressed slightly over the past century (also please notice the faulty names on the signs).

The climate in Punta Arenas is rainy, windy and chilly, even though it is approaching summer. It is around 8-11 degrees Celsius in daytime and the temperature drops to 0-3 at night. The weather also shifts quickly. People I meet say that it is colder than usual due to a strong El Niño phenomenon this year. The climate reminds me of Sweden in many ways which is a nice contrast to the high temperatures that I experienced in Brazil.

We spend the next few days exploring the city of Punta Arenas. The people living in the city are very friendly and helpful. Hitchhiking is no problem, as usually no more than one or two cars pass by before you are offered a ride.

Large parts of Parque Nacional de Magellanes is covered in forests.

Large parts of Parque Nacional de Magellanes are covered in forests.

On 15 November we go to Parque Nacional de Magellanes which is a nature reserve just west of the city. The environment there is great and I am amazed to learn that there are pumas living inside the reserve. It is only 70 kilometers from the southern tip of mainland South America. The view from the reserve is outstanding as we see the whole city of Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan from there. Many famous explorers have sailed past this strait, including Charles Darwin and Ferdinand Magellan.

The house in which we are staying has been used as storage space for quite some time. After spending a few days cleaning it, it turns out to be a quite cozy place. It is situated just by the Strait of Magellan.

The red dots in Chile are Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine, while the places I have visited in South Africa are Kimberley and Port Elisabeth.

The red dots in Chile are Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine, while the places I have visited in South Africa are Kimberley and Port Elisabeth.

Visiting the Museo Naval y Martimo, which is essentially a naval war museum, reminds me that this is as far south that I have ever been in the world. Punta Arenas is only 1 350 kilometers from mainland Antarctica. As a child I used to dream of going to Antarctica. It is the last wilderness in the world. Antarctica is not an island, like one might think, but a continent of its own. It is nearly the same size as Russia. Imagine how vast this place is, and with almost not a single human. And it is not only ice and snow, but there are vast mountains underneath, which pierce through the lonely vistas in some places.

This search for true wilderness is something that comes from deep inside me, as we have colonized almost the entire world and changed its environments. I am sure that setting foot on this continent would spark a bit of hope, in that we can maybe not conquer everything.

But, oh well, seeing the last great wilderness will have to come another time for me.

This southern region of Chile is perhaps most famous for its Torres del Paine national park. Torres del Paine has been voted the 8th wonder of the world on a website after five million votes. Thinking that I would not want to miss this opportunity, I go to have a look one day.

Towers of the Paine, along with lake Nordenskjöld, in Torres del Paine National Park.

The Towers of the Paine, along with lake Nordenskjöld, in Torres del Paine National Park.

Torres del Paine is spectacular. The landscape is really beautiful and there are both high peaks, rivers with waterfalls and glaciers in the park. It is a very picturesque area. I highly recommend seeing it by foot, hiking on one (or more) of its trails, as going on a tourist bus as I did sorely spoils the experience. In fact, I would go so far as to say that is like putting ketchup on an excellent truffle.

My days in Punta Arenas are winding up and I fly back to Santiago on 28 November, where I will spend the last few days of my expedition.

Together with my friends Patricia, Christian and their friend Filip, I climb the peak of La Carpa just east of Santiago, in the Andes. The weather is on our side and the whole day is sunny. The 2 700 meter peak has a great view and I can see the entire city of Santiago to the west, and many higher peaks in the Andes to the east.

I have one last day to relax in Santiago before embarking on a 33 hour journey home. The flight goes from Santiago to Saõ Paulo, onward to London and finally Stockholm. Seeing Stockholm from air is joyful.

The peak of La Carpa after 3-4 hours of hiking.

The peak of La Carpa after 3-4 hours of hiking.

These eight weeks in these two vast countries have been highlighted by sightings of puma, ocelot, jaguars, caimans, anteaters, monkeys, tapir, march deer, high mountains, warm deserts, humid forests, wet rivers, all between freezing temperatures and 42 degrees Celsius, and, of course, amazing people!

This marks the end of Expedition South America 2015. It is time to finally come home and rest. But you never know what the future will bring…

Expedition South America – Part 1 – The jaguar

Rio de Janeiro is a spectarular city. In the background is Ipanema beach, which is around the corner to Copacobana.

Myself and Vania on a hill in Rio de Janeiro.The city is spectacular. In the background is Ipanema beach, which is around the corner to Copacobana.

Brazil! A huge country, with variation to match, both in terms of people, culture and, of course, nature. Most people associate Brazil with rain forest, football and Rio de Janeiro, but let me tell you: There is much more to it. For the past month, I have traveled Brazil to learn more about the elusive jaguar (Panthera onca).

Arriving in what many consider the pearl of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, I am shown around by Vania – a specialist in otters and a native of Rio. The city is most famous for its Copacabana beach, Jesus the Redeemer statue and Carnival. We explore the city, climb a hill at one of the favelas, visit a tranquil island in the bay of Rio and also attend the first ever vegan festival in Niterói. The landscape around Rio is spectacular making it one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Maria working with the cowboys moving cattle at Xarae's ranch, during the jaguar-cattle study.

Maria working with the cowboys moving cattle at Xarae’s ranch, during the jaguar-cattle study.

After exploring Rio for four days I travel to Campo Grande in the state of Mato Grosso de Sul. I soon make my way to Miranda which is on the southern border to the Pantanal – the world’s largest wetland. There I meet with Maria who is doing a master study on the cattle-jaguar conflict, and her Brazilian friend Luciana. Together we go to Xarae’s fazenda where I spend three days seeing the project.

While Xarae’s is mainly a cattle farm, it is also a place where tourists come to see wildlife. Many fazendas have started to develop tourism as a second source income, and the Pantanal happens to be the best place in Brazil to view wildlife. This wildlife and eco-tourism is a great way to preserve nature and wildlife, that might otherwise be removed in favor of cattle.

Edimison takes me out on Rio Miranda for two hours around sunset.

Edimison takes me out on Rio Miranda for two hours around sunset.

After Xaraes, I spend a few days in the nice little city of Miranda. One night I ask a man called Edimison, who lives just by Rio Miranda, if I can rent a boat from him. He takes me out on the river for a couple of hours around sunset. I also go out the next day for an hour. You see a lot of birds on these rivers and it is well worth it.

Meanwhile, Maria tells me that she found a dead jaguar by the road north of Buraco das Piranhas. It was most likely poisoned and had died that morning. This happens since jaguars sometimes kill livestock like cattle – especially calves – and farmers sometimes retaliate by poisoning the carcasses.

The next day I travel to Campo Grande to meet with Rafael Hoogesteijn. He is a specialist on jaguars and especially the conflict between cattle ranchers and jaguars. Rafael knows this situation very well as he has worked with cattle farms for many years and also with jaguars. We speak a lot about the situation of the jaguar and what can be done to ease the conflict.

A puma prowls the edge of the forest.

A puma prowls the edge of the forest.

Fazenda San Fransisco is one of the biggest tourist pousadas in the southern Pantanal. Many tourists take the opportunity to go there since it is easy to get to after a visit to Bonito (one of the natural pearls of Brazil). On a one day excursion to San Fransisco I see both ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and puma (Puma concolor) in the same night. Especially puma is difficult to see here so it is a great observation. I also see giant anteater, march deer and, of course, a lot of caimans.

From the fazenda I get back to Miranda and grab a bus to Campo Grande. I then take an eleven hour bus up north to the city of Cuiabá, which is on the northern edge of the Pantanal in the state of Mato Grosso (not to be confused with Mato Grosso do Sul).

There I take a bus down to the much smaller city of Poconé. I spend a few days in Poconé seeing the city. The next morning I head back up to Cuiabá for the next stop on my itinerary.

Claudia speaks with a local who is worried about illegal logging of trees, just outside of Boqueirão da Onça.

Claudia speaks with a local who is worried about illegal logging of trees, just outside of Boqueirão da Onça.

Caatinga in the north-eastern parts of the country is the driest biome in Brazil, and one of the poorest. While there are jaguars in the area, the populations are fragmented and quite small, due to the extensive hunting of the 20th century.

I arrive in Petrolina in the middle of the night and on the next day meet up with Claudia Campos from the organization Pro Carnivoros. Claudia has worked in the area on and off for nearly ten years, focusing on jaguar and puma. She is working to establish a national park called Boqueirão da Onça to protect one of the last remaining jaguar populations in an area that is rich in variation and comparably untouched by man. Boqueirão da Onça, which is a mountainous area of more than 8 000 square kilometers, has no cell phone reception, and many of the small settlements only got electricity two months ago.

We purchase the food we needed for the week and head out in the morning. The drive to the edge of the area takes about two hours from Petrolina. We meet up with our field guide, Neto, who lives just outside of the proposed national park. Neto knows the area inside out. His wife prepares lunch for us and then we pack up all things into the pickup truck and go west – straight into the proposed national park.

This is one of the carnivore-proof night pens that Claudia's team has helped to build.

This is one of the carnivore-proof night pens that Claudia’s team has helped to build.

We travel on bumpy and rocky dirt roads where a normal car would not get through. We spend the next five days visiting people, seeing the few areas where there is still water, seeing a place where a farmer experienced jaguar predation on his cattle, and also find pugmarks of both puma and ocelot, but no jaguar. We also visit a few of the jaguar-proof night pens that Claudia and her team has constructed together with the farmers. These pens are great for both farmers, who will get fewer losses, for the goats who will stay safer, and the jaguars, who will experience less risk of being poached or poisoned.

Boqueirão da Onça is a beautifully dry area with a lot of mountains and cliffs. Once the rains begin, usually no later than January, the area goes from whitish grey into a bloom. Still, even in the dry season, a lot of plants persist and there are also valleys which are green year around. Seeing the area was a good experience and the people there are among the friendliest that I have ever met.

Back in Petrolina I then fly to Sao Paulo where I take a 27 hour bus back up to Cuiabá. About 16 hours in, a man sitting in the seat in front of me is arrested by the police for smuggling drugs, which he hid inside the seats while the other passengers were out having lunch.

In Cuiabá I meet with my snow leopard book colleague Jan Fleischmann, who has just spent a bit of time in Porto Jofre seeing jaguars. We take a bus down to Poconé and from there hire a taxi to take us to Porto Jofre. At the entrance we are met by Roger at Hotel Pantanal North, where we will stay for a few days. Porto Jofre is possibly the best place in the world to spot for jaguars, especially around September and October. We spend four days criss-crossing the various rivers and tributaries on boat, searching.

Once the sun has set this jaguar male goes into the forest and we head back home for the night.

Once the sun has set this jaguar male goes into the forest and we head back home for the night.

The jaguar is a beautifully spotted cat – the largest in the Americas. At the first look one usually think it resembles a leopard. Its life history, though, is more similar to that of the tiger.

On the side of the river, a female jaguar is with her cub. It is 33 degrees Celsius and sunny, and the two jaguars slowly walk alongside the edge of the river, sometimes stopping to clean each other. The female shows affectionate maternal love toward its cub. In seeing this, I am thinking that it must be difficult to hate or dislike these cats. They are truly awe-inspiring.

In the end, we observed no less than seven jaguars in these four days. I am thrilled to have seen this beautiful carnivore in the wild – a place where I hope that it will be allowed to continue to live. This also marks the end of the first part of my trip to South America, which continues in a few hours to another country, where part two begins.

I wish to thank all the kind and warm people that I have met during this month.

Muito obrigado, Brasil!

International Snow Leopard Day 23 October

23 October marks the day when the International Snow Leopard Day coincides with the International Snow Leopard Year of 2015.

23 October marks the day when the International Snow Leopard Day coincides with the International Snow Leopard Year of 2015.

Today, the 23 of October, is the International Snow Leopard Day!

Stop for a second and think of the cat with the frosty eyes there up in the mountains. Think what it would be like being a snow leopard walking high up on the top of the world. Do you feel the wind in your fur and the texture of the rock underneath your paws?

If you feel up to it, please make a small donation to one of the organizations working to save the snow leopard, such as Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Conservancy. They need all the help they can get in order to save these amazing cats.

Successful day

s2015-09-26-Cicci-Jan-Michael-Jonatan4

It was a successful day at Göteborg Book Fair. We have had several interviews and also discussed English publication of the book. In the picture, Votum’s Cicci Hallström, Jan Fleischmann, Michael Jonsson and Jonatan Borling after an interview in Votum’s booth.

Göteborg book fair 26 September

Come and see Jan Fleischmann and me at the book fair Bok & Bibliotek in Göteborg, Sweden. We will talk about the book in the booth of Votum at 14:30 on Saturday 26 September. There is also the possibility of purchasing a signed copy of the Swedish edition of the book.

Votum is located at B 01:42 at the book fair.

We hope to see you there!

See Votum’s full programme here:
http://votumforlag.se/

Life is amazing!

ss2012-12-31-spotteddeerIsn’t life just amazing in all its shapes and forms? Just think of all the incredible animals and plants we have on this planet – and the enormous complexity within them! They started forming some 3 500 000 000 years ago after the earth was a lifeless maelstrom of fire, air and water.

We now have 8 740 000 species on earth and each is unique. In fact, each and every individual animal and plant is unique and carries incredibly complex genetic material from thousands of generations, making it masterfully adapted to its own local environment.

We now ravage freely, killing animals and consuming environments all over the world, essentially destroying our very own ancestry, as well as our future. Many of the products we buy were once home to orangutans in Indonesia or jaguars in Brazil. Our consumption is draining the world of its life. Our failure to see the indirect results of our actions spells catastrophe for a living being somewhere far away, where our eyes cannot reach.

What if we started seeing other animals like what they are: our siblings of mother earth? We all came from that same place long ago – that lifeless pond. We have all shared this earth for as long as life has existed. What if we can make earth that planet full of sparkling life that it once was?

Life IS amazing! ❤

Snow leopard lecture Saturday 25 July

snoleopard

See invitation above (click for full-sized image).

Tomorrow on 25 July I hold a talk on snow leopards together with my co-author Jan Fleischmann at Rovdjurscentret De 5 Stora in Järvsö, Sweden. We will let you follow on an adventure out into the mountains of central Asia as we spot for the cat, and you will learn about the snow leopard itself – what makes it the coolest animal in the world and what makes it tick.

The talk begins at 13:00 and is in Swedish. See the attached invitation.

The great field season of 2015

These are the travels of this year's main field season.

These are the travels of this year’s main field season.

I have been out doing field work across Sweden since 30 March and arrived home today on 18 June, marking the end of the field season. The work revolved around looking at how much moose forage on trees.

It has been 61 hard, cold, windy and rainy field days. I have driven 11 339 kilometers, worked across 8 counties, spent nights next to alpine mountains, even hiking up on one and had baths in rivers and lakes with outside temperatures of five degrees Celsius.

Moose forage on pine trees in winter.

Moose forage on pine trees in winter.

I have seen the world’s longest aerial lift in Västerbotten and seen numerous moose, roe deer, semi-domestic reindeer, European vipers, hares and even a female brown bear with three cubs.

I was last stationed far north, west of Skellefteå – and up there sunset and sunrise come together as it barely gets darker around midnight.

Roe deer is especially common in the southern third of Sweden and along the east coast, but can nowadays be found almost across the whole country

Roe deer is especially common in the southern third of Sweden and along the east coast, but can nowadays be found almost across the whole country

The view over Lunndörrsfjällen from western Jämtland.

The view north over Lunndörrsfjällen from western Jämtland.

Combined sunset and sunrise in Skråmträsk, Västerbotten. It is actually not as dark as the picture shows. It is just a bit darker than daylight.

Combined sunset and sunrise in Skråmträsk, Västerbotten on 16 June at 11:40 pm. It is actually not as dark as the picture shows. It is just a bit darker than daylight around midnight.

The view from Munsfjället in Jämtland.

The view south from Munsfjället in Jämtland.

It is good to be back home. It is time to relax from field work for the time being and focus on new projects.

Semi-domestic reindeer are common in northern Sweden. They are owned by the Sami minority but are free-ranging.

Semi-domestic reindeer are common in northern Sweden. They are owned by the Sami minority but are free-ranging.