Caiman’s of the Tambopata, Jaime Thomas29th December 2017
Story Written by Jaime Thomas, intern of Untamed Photography
Tonight after dark Mark, Bryn and I walked down to the river. The water level is very low right now and we were hoping to spot caimans and/or mammals. Well, no mammals appeared but we did manage to catch several caimans, one close to a meter in length and another slightly larger. We walked along the river edge, scoping the area with our headlamps and looking for eye shine. Mark found the first one in a small pool of water on the beach. He caught it and showed Bryn and myself how to hold it properly, keeping a grasp on its neck and supporting its back end around the base of the tail. This particular species is known as the White or Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus) and it can reach up to about 2 meters in length. This was my first time holding a wild caiman so that was exciting! It stayed relatively calm while it was being held so we took photos, then released it back into the water. We continued our walk and the second one was found in another pool of water a short time later. This time we waited till it swam to the shallow end of the pool and Mark let me catch it. You have to move quickly and grab it at the neck so that it doesn’t bite you. We took more photos and then released it. They are fascinating animals and it was great being able to get that close to them. It was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to doing it again!
Tonight began another round of caiman hunting. This time we walked through a stream in the forest. A lot of it was making our way through thick, sticky mud, wading through knee deep pools of water and climbing over fallen trees and branches. Mark caught a juvenile Smooth-fronted Caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus) that was close to a foot long from head to tail. This species is normally found in small streams in the forest and they will grow to be about 2.5 – 3 meters in length. I held it and it basically sat in my hands with its mouth open, exposing the tiny, sharp teeth. Mark then took it and set it on a branch over the water where we spent a few minutes taking photos before releasing it where we found it. That was the only caiman we found tonight but we also came across a scorpion, a Brazilian Wandering Spider (considered to be one of the world’s most venomous spiders) and saw a porcupine climbing up a tree.
Mark and I took a night walk into the forest. On the way back we stopped by the stream again and decided to take a short walk through it. Mark was walking ahead of me and I saw him stop suddenly and look down at the water. He was in a knee-deep section of water and he began to wade slowly through it. I figured he had spotted a caiman so I stood back and waited. Then he plunged into the water suddenly and grabbed onto something. There was a lot of thrashing in the water so it appeared to be a big one! After like a minute of struggling with it, he managed to get a good grip on it and pull it out of the water, thrashing about wildly! He hauled it onto the bank next to the stream and I photographed him holding it; he had his hands around its neck and was sitting on it, but it stayed calm at that point and didn’t move much anymore. I wanted to hold it too but he said although it was sitting there calmly, they can make sudden strong moves that can take you by surprise if you’re not careful. And a bite from one this size could cause you to lose some fingers! So I held the tail and one of its feet. It was prehistoric looking and feeling, and reminded me of the large Snapping Turtles I’ve found back home. We estimated it to be a little over a meter in length. It was another P. trigonatus, not an adult yet but still an impressive size. It was odd pulling something that size out of that small stream, even though there was deeper water in that section it didn’t seem like it could hide a caiman this size so well. This was the most exciting caiman catch since I arrived here….
Mark and I went on another night walk to the same stream in the forest. This time we followed it for a little while in both directions. We were hoping to come across that large caiman again but we only found a total of two juveniles of the P. trigonatus species; Mark captured the first one and I captured the second one. They can be feisty but these two sat calmly in our hands with their mouths open as we held them. We let them go back where we found them but didn’t see any others. We also found a crab and some type of shrimp in that stream, plus a few Jungle Frogs and Crested Toads. On the way back out of the forest we watched a Red Brocket Deer make its way along the forest edge and then disappear into the dense vegetation. You never know what you’ll see next in the rainforest!
Tonight we took only a short walk through the same stream as before. We found a couple of Jungle Frogs and a juvenile P. trigonatus again. This one was a bit more aggressive than the others. Mark and I took turns holding it and Mark demonstrated how they don’t do much harm when they’re this size (it was no more than a foot long) by letting it bite his finger. I did the same thing and felt the tiny, sharp teeth pricking my skin but it doesn’t really do anything. We then released it back into the stream and watched it swim away. So ends another night of caiman hunting….