Walking with giants

By | Travel
The giant anteater in Brazil, South America. Credit@Peter Schoen via flickr.com

Among South America’s diverse wildlife, few creatures come more unique than the giant anteater. As its name suggests, they are the largest of their family, equipped with a vacuum-cleaner nozzle and a sticky tongue that stretches over half a metre. Brazil, a country of vast landscapes and varied habitats, is a good chance for making an acquaintance with these living giants, as they stroll the high and rolling grasslands.

Located in the South East of Brazil, Serra de Canastra National Park is perched on a plateau in Minas Gerais- Brazil’s second most populous state. It is in this National Park that these beleaguered animals are safe from hunters, traffic and loggers that have reduced their numbers across the continent. The giant anteater can reach 2.1 metres long from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail. Their size, along with their pickaxe front claws and long, bushy tails make them so characteristic and popular to see.

Over the years, local tourist companies in Minas Gerais have found the perfect solution to getting up close and personal with these giants: hover an elevated ant hill. Sooner or later, the distinctive creature will make its way over to suck up its dinner, and what is on the menu every day? Ants. Although the anteater goes from hill to hill to feed itself and its baby (which is carried on its back), it carefully opens a nest, as it prefers to return to feed again in the future.

The vacuum-cleaner nozzle and sharp claws of the giant anteater. Credit@Allan Hopkins via flickr.com

The vacuum-cleaner nozzle and sharp claws of the giant anteater. Credit@Allan Hopkins via flickr.com

These giants may undoubtedly be one of a kind. They flick their tongue more than 150 times a minute, have no teeth, are almost blind and walk on their wrists. These unusual characteristics put them one step ahead. For example they have a heightened sense of smell to make up for sight and they walk on their wrists to protect their delicate curly digging claws.

Other than home to the unique, rare giant, Serra da National Park is also home to a range of eye-catching landscapes and landmarks. Water springs, vast fields, mountains, caves and breath-taking waterfalls are only some of what outlines the Park. It marks the birthplace of the mighty São Francisco River that runs entirely in Brazilian territory. With a length of just under 3,000 kilometres, it is the fourth longest river in South America.

Canyons de Furnas, Minas Gerais. Credit@Andreia Reis via flickr.com

Canyons de Furnas, Minas Gerais. Credit@Andreia Reis via flickr.com

Also known as the “river of national integration”, it is an important river in Brazil and its people as it has long served as a line of communication between Brazil’s regions- in particular the Southeast and the Northeast. Many travellers venture through caves, canyon waters and natural pools that lead on from the São Francisco River. It is also common for travellers exploring Brazil to hike the river’s upper reaches, crossing forests, grasslands and streams on their way.

At the top of the river lies another animal of rarity. The maned wolf- a reddish brown fox with long, black legs and a distinctive black mane. The long legs are believed to be an adaptation to the tall grasslands that surround the river. Unlike many other wolves, the manned wolf hunts alone, between dusk and midnight. At the other end, the River downstream is home to one of the world’s rarest ducks- the bottle-green duck.

Caparaó Mountains, Minas Gerais. Credit@Dgarkauskas via flickr.com

Caparaó Mountains, Minas Gerais. Credit@Dgarkauskas via flickr.com

Minas Gerais, the state that homes this exquisite national park and its wildlife, is sometimes referred to as the Deep Brazil. It has said to have a more distinct native flavour than cosmopolitan São Paulo, a more traditional slant than flashy Rio de Janerio and is more Portuguese than the South. Its varied landscape and vibrant atmosphere make it an interesting state for travellers to visit.

This South-eastern Deep Brazil is home to some extraordinary animals and landscapes that many travel the world to see. Being around for more than 25 million years, the 5,000 giant anteaters that exist today are the last that remain. It is through places like the Serra de National Park that is itself protected, that it may return the favour by homing and protecting the remaining of the one of the world’s most unusual and inventive giants.

What unusual creatures have you come across on your travels?

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