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Story Behind the Picture: Capybara Capers

Nikon D3s, Nikon 500mm, f4, 1/5000 second

This photo was taken during one of my group photography tours to the Pantanal in Brazil. On each of the three previous afternoons, we had visited the same beautiful secluded lagoon off the main channel of the Paraguay River and seen nothing particularly special or noteworthy. And yet for reasons that are beyond logical explanation, I had good feeling as we entered the lagoon on the fourth day. Initially everything was quiet with the usual smatterings of common species we had become familiar with, Amazon and ringed kingfishers, jabiru storks, limpkins and egrets and the odd black-collared hawk perched on branches overhanging the water here and there. One or two capybara were also visible, either lazily sunning themselves on a sand bank or in the water feeding around the margins.

Capybara swimming with young, Paraguay River, Taiama Reserve

A close call: a female capybara and four pups swims by, just after nearly being predated by a jaguar

We cruised around the large lagoon for perhaps half an hour. Then something caught my eye - a capybara on the edge of the water behaving in a slightly peculiar manner. A fraction of a second later and before I’d had chance to even mention any possibilities to everyone else, there was huge splash and commotion and where the capybara had been, stood a beautiful female jaguar. A wave a ripples soon extended out across the otherwise calm waters’ surface but there was no sign of the capybara. Several seconds passed. Then the capybara popped to the surface a good 25m off the shore, along with four pups following immediately in her wake. The jaguar starred in indignation, perhaps contemplating the meal it has just missed.

Now the capybara were swimming straight towards us, while the mother continued to bark alarm calls repeatedly. The jaguar by now had slipped away and was gone, but the capybara in Indian file kept coming and swam right by our position, seemingly unaware or unconcerned by us and still clearly preoccupied with the danger and their close very close call.

This all happened so quickly, I hardly had time to take photos. Fortunately, my camera was already set up on a tripod with gimbal head at the rear of the boat, so all I had to do was flick the on switch, compose and shoot. There was no time to think about any other factors: the epitome of ‘shoot from the hip’ photography. This certainly reinforced the necessity to always be ready and leave your camera set up in a way that allows it to be used in an instant.