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The Pantanal is the world's largest tropical wetland, straddling the borders of Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia--with Brazil containing the lion's share. This tropical wetland soaks up the rainfall of the rainy season, turning from a purely terrestrial setting into a snaking waterway dotted with land masses. The dry season takes this overfilled-sponge of land and provides water when the rains are long gone, slowly using up and eventually squeezing just about all the water out of the land. The Pantanal’s biodiversity is vast; the bird diversity alone of the Pantanal is staggering: 700 species.
A couple years ago, I helped guide a tour for wildlife photographers in Brazil's Pantanal. The lush overgrowth of trees interspersed with the grassy plains, and the humidity hanging thickly in the air, made for a rich environment teeming with life. One morning, while wandering around the property we were staying at, I noticed a large number of a bird I hadn't seen before, that I later learned was the Guira Cuckoo, a common species of cuckoo in Brazil, especially in the open and semi-open habitats of eastern and southern Brazil. They are a highly social species, often appearing in groups of 6-8 birds - although groups sometimes grow to around 20 individuals. A shaggy orange crest resembling a mohawk of sorts, as well as their pungent scent, and shrill, wailing call makes me think of them as the punk rockers of the bird world. At times they huddle closely to maintain body warmth, especially the younger birds, which is what I was soon to witness.
The cuckoos were moving about among various trees, feeding and establishing territory. Eventually many of them settled into one tree. Looking at them arrayed in the tree, and searching for an interesting photo compositionally, I realized that on one branch, a number of juveniles were actually snuggled up next to each other in a very endearing manner. Seeing the fluff of their delicate feathers blending from one body to the next, I could imagine the cozy warmth of being so close, each bird providing a toasty pocket of down for a neighbor. I managed to position myself with an unobstructed view of them and took a few shots with a telephoto lens, keeping my distance so I wouldn't disturb them.
Although these birds seemed healthy in number, the truth is that all of the Pantanal’s wildlife is under siege. This region is being destroyed rapidly by fires, which have so far consumed over 11 million acres across the Pantanal, totaling about 30% of the biome. The fires were started by human activity—most likely the clearing of land for agriculture—and are difficult to control due to the region’s inaccessibility, and because many of the fires are burning underground, fueled by highly combustible peat and exacerbated by drought.
Please consider supporting the work of those fighting these fires, and battling for conservation of the Pantanal: SOS Pantanal , Rainforest Alliance , and Greenpeace.
Just like these tiny birds, whether we acknowledge it or not, we depend on each other. Working to save ecosystems and seeking ways to share the planet with all creatures is not only a noble effort, but also an act of self-preservation. We are all in this together.
About Untamed Photographer
Untamed Photographer is an online art gallery that brings together wildlife photography and stories from a range of international environmental artists, both emerging and established.
Structured as an online marketplace, Untamed Photographer offers a selection of handpicked, limited-edition works of art, alongside the photographers’ compelling stories of what occurred in the wild to get the shot. The exclusive limited-edition pieces are printed in Miami and come with an artist-signed certificate of authenticity from their respective worldwide locations.
The Nature Trust of the Americas (NTOTA) was founded with the mission to give back. While building awareness for NTOTA’s causes, the founders met talented nature photographers who are passionate not only about photography, but also about saving the planet. Their life’s work and stories are inspiring, and their art, passion and stories deserve to be shared on a platform that benefits the environmental causes they are dedicated to.
Just as the photographers preserve the beauty of the planet in their art, Untamed Photographer is dedicated to preserving the planet for the future. All profits from photographs go to Untamed Photographer's two pillars: the artists and causes that protect the environment, ecosystems, and wildlife.
About the Photographer: Melissa Groo
Melissa Groo is a wildlife photographer, writer, and conservationist with a passion for educating people about the marvels of the natural world. She believes that photography can be both fine art and a powerful vehicle for storytelling, and considers herself a “wildlife biographer” as much as a wildlife photographer. It is her mission to raise awareness and change minds about not only the extrinsic beauty of animals, but also their intrinsic worth.
Melissa is an Associate Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers. She writes a bimonthly column on wildlife photography for Outdoor Photographer magazine, is a contributing editor to Audubon magazine, and advises National Audubon Society on photography content and ethics in bird photography.
In 2017, Melissa was awarded the Katie O'Brien Lifetime Achievement Award by Audubon Connecticut, for demonstrating exceptional leadership and commitment to the conservation of birds, other wildlife, and their habitats. She also received NANPA's Vision Award, given to a photographer every 2 years in recognition of early career excellence, vision and inspiration to others in nature photography, conservation, and education.
In 2020, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology released "Bird Photography with Melissa Groo," an online masterclass in beginning bird photography. It comprises almost 40 videos featuring her instruction.
Melissa's association with the Lab goes back to when she worked in the Bioacoustics Research Department from 2000-2005 on elephant communication. She was a research assistant for scientist Katy Payne on The Elephant Listening Project, and spent field seasons in the rainforest of central Africa studying forest elephants in the wild, where she learned to listen deeply and watch closely.
Her photographs and articles have been published in numerous magazines including Smithsonian, Audubon, Outdoor Photographer, National Wildlife, Living Bird, and Natural History. Melissa has received awards and honorable mentions in national and international photography competitions. Her fine art prints are in personal and corporate collections, and have been exhibited in numerous private galleries as well as a number of public venues, including the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
About the Creator
I'm a wildlife photographer, writer, and conservationist. My goal is to document the lives, the beauty, and the necessity of all wild creatures. And to help them survive and thrive.