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When Murphy’s law works in your favour

When Murphy’s law works in your favour

Murphy’s law in short is that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. If one thing goes wrong, the next thing will go wrong as well. For example when you’re in de supermarket and you happen to pick just that line that moves the slowest, when you try to pay you find out your bank account has been emptied and your car is being towed when you exit the supermarket. Then you’re not having your best day. It can also happen the other way around: a day that starts well only gets better. When you are looking for nice animals you might just be familiar with Murphy’s law. There are those days when you don’t manage to find anything good and then it quickly feels like Murphy has got it in for you. Luckily there are also days, scarce ones though (!), on which everything seems to go well. Those days make up for a lot that earlier went wrong.

My first experiences in the South-American Amazon were in Peru in 2019. In good spirits I went for three weeks to the Tambopata Park. Three weeks! I should be able to see one cat at least! Even if it is only an Ocelot! After a week of walking around every night with a really low number of mammals I adjusted my expectations a bit; if I only find a tapir then my stay in the Amazon can also be called a success! On one of my last night’s we went camping at a distant lake: Katicocha. Here I took up post near a trail created by animals where we saw tapir tracks earlier. Who knows: I might see a nice cat after all and if not at least that tapir! However nothing turns up. After a few hours I walked back towards the path and to the tents. The path ran a bit upwards. I was looking with my thermal camera and sure enough: there was a large animal there! The animal was so large that I already knew this must be a tapir. I hesitated for a moment. I knew I was very close, at a maximum of 3 meters from the animal. If I did nothing and I let the animal come to me, I was afraid it would smell me and would still run out of there. So I turned on my torch and ran upwards. The animal ran away loudly snorting and I failed to get even a glimpse of it. I did not doubt that my first Brazilian Tapir just ran away from me, but I do not count this sighting. Another day I was standing on the shore of the Tambopata looking at the river. Suddenly I see something floating by that looks a lot like the head of an otter. It even turns its head towards me! Neotropical Otter! I quickly fire some shots, but then I discover that it is not an otter, but a weirdly shaped piece of foam that turns in the current… In the end I left the Amazon without the mammals I had hoped for. Murphy’s law at work? Perhaps not entirely: seeing Giant Otters was something else, the monkeys showed themselves well and as a birder you never really return from the Amazon emptyhanded. Still the South-American mammals stayed in my head. I still had an axe to grind with those.

However I had more plans and it did not seem likely I would get in a nice area for them within the foreseeable future. Corona seemed to make this even harder until corona also caused me returning to South-America earlier than I had planned. Sure enough Ecuador even got me an Andean Tapir. Actually a much more difficult tapir to see than the Brazilian! In Jaguarland in Bolivia I am finally back in an area with many iconic South-American mammals. My first day was successful with Jaguarundi, Black Spider Monkey, Giant Anteater and a running away Ocelot at night. That was promising for our next days! The next day we met another Jaguarundi, closer even then the other one, but I am not able to take a picture. I do have a nice view through the binoculars though. In the afternoon a Jaguar suddenly raced through the grass. It sounds more fun than it was, because actually I only saw a tail and a piece of a body, but the size and the orange colour do make clear which species it is.

I should have been quite happy with this as I had never seen a Jaguar, but the quality of the sighting and the fact I don’t have a picture gnaw at me a bit. Fortunately we had a lot more days! We went to bed rather early that day because the next morning it has to happen!

We rise at 3.00 in the morning. We drive around for a while, spotlighting without much to see, but then suddenly a Brazilian Tapir stands on the road! I can see it very well. They are such big animals! Quickly I take some pictures, but the lighting is so bad that I do not manage to squeeze more dan 1/8 of a second shutterspeed out of this situation. Luckily a record shot is still possible and I am very glad that this species is finally in the bag. That is a good start of the day!

Brazilian Tapir

We drive on. A Crab-eating Fox has a good stare at us. Not a rare mammal, but nice to get a picture of one up close.

Crab-eating Fox

We drive through the night while searching, but now it is quiet for a while. Slowly the first light starts to dawn. We turn into another road and then suddenly an Ocelot runs in front of us! The Ocelot quickly gets into the vegetation, but favours us by waiting for a short while after that and looking at us! Cat number 2 -cat number 14 on my wordlist- is now convincingly in the bag.


A half hour later we hit the jackpot again. A big cat sneaks out of the vegetation and looks at us while standing on the road. The lighting is still bad and for a second I think I am looking at a small jaguar. The car stops and the cat runs away. It turns out it’s a big Ocelot! This Ocelot fortunately also stops a few times and I have better pictures now. Not the world class pictures I would like to have of this species, but I have no reason to complain!


We drive on. Some Bare-faced Curassows cause some excitement, but sadly they are not the hoped for Jaguarundi. Still they are nice birds!

Bare-faced Curassow

I also enjoy looking at a nice young Yellow-headed Caracara

Yellow-headed Caracara

When we drive past a little pond I suddenly see something dark in the pond. I hesitate for a second, but I don’t expect to see a caiman this way and I immediately think of that other option: Neotropical Otter. This species has only been seen here once before by Nick, but it is possible! The animal disappears. We stop and the animal reappears and looks at us: that’s an otter! I quickly take some record shots. After that the otter disappears for the last time and does not return.

Neotropical Otter

Our morning has been a great success already. Some Blue-and-yellow Macaws show themselves nicely and increase the festivities some more. I always love to watch these birds in flight.

Blue-and-yellow Macaw

After breakfast we go out again and then we also see a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth. Not a new species for me, but a new one for the trip list.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth

A few hours later our luck runs out however: we get a flat tire. Luckily the tire is quickly replaced, but we do need to get a spare tire in case another one runs flat. So we’ve lost the car for the afternoon. We were on a roll but Murphy’s law seems to have lost it’s magic.

In the afternoon we try to see another good animal on foot, but we are not in luck. We even talk with one of the guys working in the soy fields and he shows us a video of a Jaguar he chased that afternoon with his truck… That hurts! I do manage to get a nice picture of a Blue-throated Piping Guan though.

Blue-throated Piping Guan

An hour before sunset the car returns. We quickly set out in direction of the soy fields where the Jaguar has been seen. Slowly it gets darker. We drive alongside the soy fields that contain many birds and also a South-American Coati, but not the animal we hope for.

South-American Coati

We approach a road that runs into the forested area. On our left we suddenly see a big animal standing a bit further in the field. That looks good! The binoculars on it: Jaguar! El Tigre just stands there on the field with a curved tail in the air. It is a huge animal so we suspect it is a male. Sadly the distance is rather large, but it is a great experience to see this animal walking across the field in twilight.


At a certain point it even turns towards us, but sadly does not approach us. We drive around the field to get closer, but sadly that is not successful. Still the day has been a great success. Cat number 3 -cat number 15 on the world list- is now convincingly in the bag and Jaguar is of course a special one at that. It is the largest cat of South-America and for me personally my third Panthera after Leopard and Lion. So Murphy’s law worked in our favour today. In the next days it turns out Murphy’s law also has its limits, because we are pretty unlucky with rain, but of course that is also how it goes when looking for animals. Sometimes you are lucky sometimes you are not. Today we were lucky!


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