If you noticed them at all, they’d look like nothing more than tiny, windblown seeds floating amid the rushes at the edge of a lagoon in Brazil’s remote interior. Wait until dark, when the vast conspiratorial hush of the wetlands gives way to a chorus of chirpings and rustlings, and those little specks begin to slip away, vanishing in the murk.
These tiny dots are the watchful eyes of baby yacare caimans, members of the crocodilian family, barely two weeks old and scarcely longer than a pencil. By day they hide among aquatic grasses, concealed from herons or storks who might swoop in for a quick snack. By night they slip away to feast on insects and snails, graduating to bigger fare as they grow bigger themselves. Given time and opportunity, they can reach eight feet and be powerful enough to capture a capybara, one of the area’s giant rodents. But that’s all in the future. For now they are near the bottom of the pecking order, just trying to keep out of sight.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of these hatchling caimans lurk in this one lagoon. And there are many more such lagoons in the Pantanal. This enormous flowering wetland along the Paraguay River in southwestern Brazil is not only home to what is probably Earth’s largest crocodilian population but also the setting for one of conservation’s great comeback stories.