Wild Brazil: FIFA World Cup, Olympics and nature in abundance

In his new show, BBC nature expert Adam White offers us an intimate look at the wildlife in this spectacular country…


All eyes are on Brazil. In World Cup year, you’d expect as much, and with the Olympics to follow in 2016, the country will be centre stage for a long time after the final whistle blows on July’s carnival of football.


But there’s more to this massive country – the fifth largest in the world – than booting balls and beaches. Because beyond the Maracanã and Copacabana, resonant names both, you’ll find glorious beaches that you’ve never heard of, sprawling cities that speak of the country’s recent extraordinary economic growth and barbecues by the articulated lorryload. However, it’s the biodiversity of the Amazon and the wetlands in the south of the country that make it a unique haven for wildlife.

“You can’t summarise a country like Brazil,” says nature film-maker Adam White, host of Wild Brazil (which starts next week on BBC2). “If you were to visit Brazil, there are usually two ways of doing it. You could do a tour and travel round as many places as possible, or you could be invited in and live with a couple of families, imbed yourself, and get a flavour of what it’s like to live in Brazil.” White and his crew do the latter. Only their hosts are not human – they’re tufted capuchin monkeys, coatis and giant river otters.

In extraordinary footage, we follow these animal families as they grow up, take their first steps, stand on their own two feet then look for love. “These are universal themes that we can all relate to,” says White, “but they’re doing it against the extraordinary backdrop that is Brazil.”

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Above all, it is the close encounters that set this nature documentary apart. Adam White gets to swim in piranha-infested waters, film face-offs with jaguars and giant otters, and accidently stands on four caiman crocodiles – and manages to escape unscathed. “The wildlife here is much less frightened of people than it is in other countries,” says White.

Brazil was one of the first nations to boycott hunting, and, unlike other wildlife-rich nations, hunting is still taboo here. As a result, the animal population is larger, and species don’t fear human observers like they would in other parts of the world. Because of this, White was able to follow capuchin monkeys in Piaui. “We have to stop them opening up our camera cases, fiddling with our equipment and getting into our cars. The mischievous little monkeys are unbelievable,” he says. “Luckily, they’re not very dangerous – unless you’re a nut.”

The Wild Brazil team witnesses a family of capuchins using stone tools and fashioning sticks to get lizards out of cracks. “They’re wonderfully intelligent, they use their equivalent of hammers and anvils to crack open tiny seeds,” explains White. “There’s a lovely moment when this baby capuchin, named Chocolate, is trying to use a stone tool for the first time and he’s trying to work out what’s more fun – banging it on the earth or banging it on his mate’s head.”

Another surprise is that they don’t live in jungles: “They live in canyons. It’s like something out of Indiana Jones,” says White.

Meanwhile, in west Brazil, the terrain is utterly different; the wetlands of Pantanal are home to giant otters that are nearly two metres in length. “They’re as long as most people are tall,” explains White. “And their heads are bigger than a Labrador’s.” 

These nutrient-rich waters are filled with piranhas, an otter’s favourite dish. “Put a piece of meat over the side of a boat and you’ll get a piranha within seconds,” says White. “But you can swim in the rivers where there are piranha. They generally only eat things that are injured, wounded or dead.” There’s lots of food for the otters, but their presence attracts hundreds of predators. In Pantanal, there are more jaguars than anywhere else in the wild, and more caiman crocs than there are people living in London.

“These otter families are trying to bring up their babies in the roughest neighbourhood possible,” says White. “How can a baby otter learn to swim when the banks are patrolled by jaguars and the swimming pool is filled with caiman?” The otter’s only defence is to adopt a gang culture. “Otters have the power of family, that’s why they’re so big and that’s why there are so many of them. It’s a thing we can all relate to – the power of the family united against a common threat.”

Although White admits he can’t possibly show everything Brazil has to offer in three episodes of a TV show, he says, “Wild Brazil can give you this fantastic in-depth look at three unbelievable families living in an extraordinary setting. It will give you a passion for wanting to find out more about the country.”  

Adam White’s top nature spots

1 Iguazu Falls

This incredible natural wonder (main picture, left) should be on everyone’s travel list. Great for coatis and birdwatching.

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2 Amazon

The largest rainforest on the planet. Manaus is an excellent starting point from which to explore. The best way is to catch one of the riverboats and just let the world’s richest habitat for wildlife float past. Expect incredible birdlife, insects, sloths and monkeys galore.

3 North Pantanal

One of the greatest places to see wildlife on Earth — allow several days here. There are many lodges along the Transpantaneira Road, all offering amazing wildlife encounters. Expect views of giant otters, caiman, incredible birdlife and — if you’re lucky — jaguar.

4 South Pantanal

The southern part of the Pantanal offers an equally enthralling, subtly different, experience. Many of the same species are on offer, but you can add giant anteater, capybara, hyacinth macaws (right), tapir and adorable coatis.

5 Atlantic Rainforest

Don’t confuse with the Amazon. They’re unconnected and have different animals and plants. This is the lush rainforest that cloaks São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and is one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. You don’t have to travel far from the cities for close encounters with hummingbirds, woolly spider monkeys, tamarins and marmosets.

6 Emas National Park

Don’t overlook Brazil’s cerrado (grasslands). The Emas (below) and Serra da Capivara reserves are well worth a visit. Find giant anteaters, armadillos, rheas and, if you’re lucky, the beautiful maned wolf.

Visit Brazil with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details