Oh , I have a long list of incredible critters I have met on my travels doing conservation work.
But I think the two that stick in my mind were from my most recent trip to Brazil.
One was a maned wolf that I saw at Santuario Caraca in the state of Minas Gerais. I had been looking for them for a long time in various reserves in Sao Paulo state but although I would find their tracks and scats , hear their strange calls at night (Sounds a bit like the werewolf in the film “American werewolf in London”) , and sometimes even smell their distinctive smell ( smells a lot like marijuana) I would never catch a glimpse of them.
Hoping to catch a glimpse of one in the wild I took a short trip to Minas Gerais to the incredible Serra Da Canastra National park which has one of the largest populations of the species anywhere in South America. Unfortunately despite looking for hours and following their tracks with a guide I didnt see any , although I did see other endangered species such as Giant anteaters and a couple of Pampas deer.
During my time in Minas Gerais a couple of local people had reccomended going to a place which seemed completely bizarre. They had told me of this old monastery in the hills and forests outside a town where there was a 90% chance of seeing maned wolves. It kept cropping up whenever I mentioned maned wolves in conversation , so I decided on the spur of the moment to just head to the monastery and try my luck.
It took me hours by bus to reach the town and once I reached there it was quite late at night and I was kind of stuck with how to get up to the monastery. The weather was really crappy , cold and drizzling with rain , and I thought that there was no chance I would get to see what I had come for.
But I bought a coffee from a little kiosk in town and ended up speaking to the owner who told me he would give me a ride up to the place. He drove up miles and miles of hills through the forest and eventually reached the destination which was a beautiful ancient monastery built by the colonial Portuguese. I spoke with the night warden and paid for a room for the night in the cloisters which once housed the monks. t was a deeply atmospheric place which is quite hard to describe , it was labyrinthine and baroque , and walking through the halls and cloisters felt like stepping back in time to a different century.
I remember hearing a storm breaking overhead and sort of pessimistically asking the warden what the chances were of seeing the wolves and he said something like “Oh , dont worry about , you will see them , they always come”.
After putting my stuff in my room , I headed back to the courtyard where the warden had told me the wolves visited to feed from a bowl of chicken bones left out for them. There I sat on the steps of the church with a pack of marlborough’s to smoke and a camera to take some shots listening to the storm overhead and watching the flickering of lightening.
For the first hour and a half there was nothing , I just sat there chain smoking , texting my girlfriend who was back in Sao Paulo, feeling cold and pessimistic and studying the baroque stone sculptures above the churches door. My thoughts at that moment were like " I wont get to see this animal , its not the right weather , I have come all this way for nothing".
But then suddenly just as I was feeling kind of sleepy I smelt that familiar musty marijuana like smell that always means a maned wolf is nearby and watching the staircase that led to the gardens below I saw this shadow slip up into the light of the patio courtyard.
It was a beautiful big male maned wolf and he walked very strangely for a canine, with the poise and gait of a deer which was fascinating to watch , he strolled over to the chicken bones and started munching on them. He seemed kind of calm for his species which is usually nervous and jumpy but his huge ears constantly twitched at the slightest sound and now and then he would look round at me pause for a couple of seconds and then turn back to his meal.
I even managed to slowly walk over towards him and get within a metre of him to study him up close and he seemed fine with it. I watched him for over an hour and he was an absolutely magnificent and charismatic animal that will always stick in my memory.
Thats one of the greatest animals I met during my travels , but I guess the other story is too long to write about right now , I’ll dig out a photo of him to show in a bit.