By Christina Armstrong, WWF’s Development Officer, Regional Philanthropy, East

Taylor Swift’s chart-topping song Karma off her Midnights album was on repeat in my head in Brazil’s Pantanal while on Natural Habitat’s Jaguars & Wildlife expedition in July 2023. Yes, the song is a current, popular release, and I love Taylor Swift, and music in general, but the reason the song was in my head was because our amazing Expedition Leader, Zapa, kept repeating to our group, “Karma!” Then, I would sing to myself, “Karma is a cat,” from Taylor’s song, as we searched for jaguars along the riverbeds in the heart of the Pantanal, Brazil.  

Guide and guests spotting a jaguar from the boat in the Pantanal, Brazil

© Christina Armstrong / WWF-US

“Why would Zapa say that?” you might be wondering. As one of the first Natural Habitat Pantanal groups in 2023, we estimated that we saw 146 species of birds and 177 species of animals in just six days. I couldn’t even name that many species in one sitting, let alone comprehend how inspiring it would be to experience one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. Did you know that the Pantanal is mostly privately owned? About 95%! 

We saw numerous threatened and near threatened species living their best lives, such as jaguars mating, giant anteaters carrying their young on their backs, giant otters chomping on fresh fish over a log alongside a riverbed of mangroves, marsh deer sniffing native, vibrant-colored flowers, and hyacinth macaws building a home in an innovative box with their lifelong mate.

A hyacinth macaw in the Pantanal

© Aaron Clausen / WWF

WWF has done great work with hyacinth macaws in this region, and it was interesting to learn about the importance of certain trees that macaws need to build their nest. They prefer soft trees called manduvi palm trees that have been cut down through the years – destroyed by deforestation, fires, clearing for cattle pastures, or logged for furniture and other products. The challenge is that even if these trees are replanted, the macaws will only make their nests in the ones that are 60-80 years old, so it takes an entire generation to regrow one manduvi tree.

As an alternate solution, WWF and other local programs created nesting boxes to encourage the macaws to build their nests. They also wrapped the trees in a metal strip so that predators could not make their way up the trees and destroy the nests. This has been a huge success in the return of hyacinth macaws, and it was rewarding to learn that WWF played a part in the return of the macaws.

WWF also has worked to protect jabiru storks, which we saw several times, and jaguars are a growing priority within WWF’s current wildlife strategy. It was fascinating to see jaguars up close (yet at a safe distance), swimming across the river, hopping from branch to branch, and snoozing in the sunshine, like my puppies do. “Karma!” 

In addition to fauna, we saw the flora of the Pantanal. The brilliant pink ipê tree bloomed across the region as we flew from the North Pantanal to the Southern region. This vibrant tree is only in bloom for about 7-10 days a year usually in August or September. It was the end of June and serendipitously, we were there to see it.

Ipe tree in bloom, Brazil

© Christina Armstrong / WWF-US

The good fortune continued as we saw the tail of a jaguarundi as it ran across our trail and capuchins played above our heads. That evening, a tapir ran by our tour vehicle as foxes danced in the spotlight. While the jaguars were readily seen, I didn’t expect to see the elusive puma during the day, but we did.

The researchers had jaguar traps set up through various areas in the Pantanal, and one morning, we quickly drank our coffee, scurried into the tour vehicle, and drove around the other side of the lake of where we were staying to see that one of the traps had safely captured a puma, and it’s currently the only puma in the world to be collared.  

Karma is a cat… 

Two jaguars (Panthera onca) doze on a tree in the Pantanal, Brazil.

© Kelvin Brown

About the Author

Christina Armstrong joined WWF in 2022 on the philanthropy team, working with supporters up and down the East Coast of the United States. She’s led fundraising teams on causes ranging from families experiencing homelessness to helping youth in Latin America through enrichment and nutrition programming. Christina has a passion for music, traveling, and hiking with her husband and two Frenchies