« We are surrounded ! » screamed the children almost at the same time, looking around the boat. In any direction we looked, we spotted black caimans (Melanosuchus niger) floating, motionless until you get very close. With a length up to 6 meters and a weight up to 200 kg, they are the most massive predator in continental America. These prehistoric looking animals, with their thick, profiled skin, hypnotizing, almost human looking eyes, and sharp teeth sticking out their long jaws, are the last terrestrials remnants of the giant reptiles of the Mesozoic and lived together with the dinosaurs 80 millions years ago. Their looks have not changed much, if you look at the fossils of that time.
With four species of crocodiles, the Amazon basin is one of the major centres of crocodilian diversity in the world, and three of these species are present in Mamirauá. All of the black caimans seem to have rallied right at the entrance to welcome us to the reserve!
The real welcome awaits us on the central platform of the floating lodge, where Bianca, a biologist and guide, and the six indigenous members of the team (guides, cooks, cleaning ladies, who all come from the four indigenous communities in the Reserve) introduce themselves friendly and warmly. « Forbidden to swim » is one of the strict rules. That we will be easy to respect, even for a group of children that has just come back from the swimming Paradise, Noronha, with the king of the forest in the water at all times.
At the end of the day, Bianca gave a presentation about the Mamirauá reserve, which is in the middle of the Amazon, the biggest forest in the world and larger than Europe. There are thousands of species of animals and fish living here (1,500 species of fish in Amazonia, of which 300 in Mamirauá), some of which are threatened with extinction. Now we could use our experience from former expeditions, to ask the right questions. Alberto inquired about the effects of the protection programs for turtles and was very demanding on the numbers. The more you learn about the Amazon, the more questions come up. Bianca answered all of those patiently. It was already late when it was time for the last question, by Polina. ¨How high can caimans jump out of the water?¨ « About two meters, in less than a second », Bianca said. This fact was presented to us just before we made our way in the dark to the cabins over the boardwalk, where we had seen caimans floating patiently all day, as if they were waiting for the right moment to jump. Guess how easy it was to fall asleep with jumping caiman nightmares and the strange whistle we were all wondering about just as we were closing our eyes.