Dramatic still images of a jaguar ambushing an unwary caiman in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands went viral on the web this month. National Geographic has exclusive video of the attack that reveals what the pictures only hint at.
With one bite, the big cat likely delivered an immediate blow to the caiman's central nervous system, leaving the animal unable to fight or flee, according to Luke Dollar, a conservation scientist who helps manage National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative.
"This guy knew his business," said Dollar. Suffocating an animal with a bite to the neck is a classic big-cat maneuver, but caimans don’t have a discernable neck. So the jaguar—which has the strongest bite of any cat—went right for the skull.
"This guy got right in the thickest part of the brain case and sunk those teeth in," he said. "And that's pretty amazing when you consider a caiman’s brain is probably the size of a walnut."
Kedar Hippalgaonkar, of Berkeley, California, shot the footage while vacationing in Brazil with his wife, Parul Jain. The couple were hoping to spot some jaguars on an eight-hour boat tour of the Pantanal with ecotourism operator SouthWild.
And did they. The jaguar in the video—known to locals as Mick Jaguar—was the third they’d seen that day. When the jaguar went ashore, Hippalgaonkar said it became obvious that Mick was on the prowl.
"He's just crawling first, and then you can see him sort of in hunt mode," he said.
"You know he’s definitely going for something. Which is why we decided to wait there, before all the other boats came."
His footage reveals a predator picking its way along the riverbank in search of potential prey.
"He makes no noise whatsoever, even when he's swimming," he said.
The tour's boatman, who had logged thousands of hours watching jaguars, told Hippalgaonkar he’d never seen anything to rival Mick Jaguar’s stealthy strike.