My absolute favorite wildlife encounter in the Pantanal was with a central South American endemic Crab-Eating Fox (Cerdocyon thous). I had left the group behind in the safari vehicle on the road to try and close in on some jabiru in the marsh on foot. I was creeping about, camera + lens in hand, when suddenly, I saw her staring at me through the marsh vegetation. I froze. After a few moments, I realized that it seemed that while she sensed something, she could not actually see me: she kept sniffing the air in my direction, ears pricked and alert, and starting intently (right at me!), but seemed like she was still assessing the situation. She seemed to relaxed a bit, and so I took a series of photos and then started slowly walking forward until she tensed up again. Then the cycle repeated: she stared at me intently, trying to smell or hear something, but apparently not being able to visually see me, and when she relaxed I took some photos and started creeping forward.
On the third cycle, however, I screwed up: I failed to note a branch or some other dead wood on the ground and stepped on it. SNAP!!!!!! And she was gone. Literally and immediately, she disappeared. I did not see her turn, move, or even shift posture: one second she was in front of me, and then the crack of the wood snapping, and then there was nothing but marsh. She vanished instantaneous and utterly, and absolutely no trace of her presence remained, just the quietness and the stillness of the marsh.
I felt like, through a glitch in the universe, I was briefly allowed a glimpse into an alternate world. It was one of those magical “contact” encounters that we are sometimes privileged to experience and that we cherish till we die (I am lucky enough to have had three of these so far).
A little while later, we came across a cub running frantically across the road into the same marsh. There was no doubt about our presence this time, as by this time we were in the vehicle with engine on and everything. The cub seemed less concerned with us though than getting to the other side, presumably to join his mother. After crossing the road and reaching the start of the marsh, he did grace us with a long look before disappearing through the vegetation, and that’s when I took this second shot.