In the center of the South American continent lies the largest wetlands in the world: the Pantanal. It lies mainly within the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso.

The wetlands extend for about 375 miles north-to-south along the banks of the upper Paraguay River and several of its tributaries, including the São Lourenço and the Taquari rivers.

The Pantanal is a gigantic seasonal floodplain. During the summer rainy season (November-March), the rivers overflow their banks and flood the adjacent lowlands, forming shallow lakes and innu-merable swamps and marshes and leaving island-like areas of higher ground. During the drier winter season (April-September), the rivers withdraw into their banks, but the lowlands are only partially drained.

The Pantanal provides sanctuary for a rich assortment of wildlife, consisting of thousands of varieties of butterflies, hundreds of species of fishes, and many mammals and reptiles. The region is also home to a number of endangered or increasingly rare animals, including the jaguar, giant anteater, cobalt-blue hyacinth macaw (the world’s largest parrot), marsh deer, and giant otter. Among the roughly 600 species of birds that live in the region are the heron, ibis, duck, greater rhea (South America’s largest flightless bird), and jabiru stork. As the site of thousands of acres of ranch land on which cattle graze, the Pantanal is also one of Brazil’s biggest sources of beef.

Among the many other benefits that the region offers is its function as a huge area for water purification and for groundwater discharge and recharge and as a source of water. Its waterways also provide transport, and the region as a whole plays an important role in climate stabilization. By the late 20th century the activities of gold miners and farmers in the surrounding areas, and the effects of poachers and tourists in the Pantanal itself, threatened to upset the wetlands’ delicate ecology. Preservation efforts have included the inscription in 2000 of the Pantanal Conservation Complex—a cluster of four protected areas at the southwest corner of the state of Mato Grosso—as a protected UNESCO World Heritage natural site.

Ecotourism

Pantanal is one of the world’s most popular ecotourism destinations. It offers just as much – if not more – of the excitement and possibility of wildlife spotting. travelers can stay in a Pantanal lodge, take nature hikes, go on a horseback ride through the wetlands, or whiz by on a zipline adventure through the forest canopy – all with minimal damage to the environment.

In general, temperatures are warm in the 80s (27C) during the day and the 60s (15C) at night. June through August are the coolest and dryest months, with fall-like temperatures in the 50s (10C) at night and the 70s (21C) during the day. Because the lack of rain during the winter, the rivers become even more crystal clear on these months.

Travelers should be careful to ask what methods their Brazil tour guide or Brazil tour agency are using to protect the environment and minimize their business’s harmful impact. Travelers can check with the Brazilian Association of Ecotourism or a similar organization to see if the agency or Pantanal lodge is registered.

Some Curious Facts

• The largest snake in the Pantanal is the yellow anaconda. It measures up to 4.5 meters and feeds on fish, birds and small mammals.

• The largest fish in the Pantanal is a giant catfish that reaches 1.5 meters in length, weighing up to 120 pounds.

• The annual flooding of the rivers in the region amounts to about 80% of the Pantanal and transform the region into a stunning water table, removing part of the rural population to migrate temporarily to the cities or towns.

• The Pantanal attracts about 700 thousand tourists per year, 65% of whom are fishermen.

• The 210 square kilometers of the Pantanal are the sum of the areas of four European countries – Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal and Holland.

• The Pantanal jaguar can weigh 150 pounds, feeding approximately 85 species of animals that live in the region.

• Every 24 hours, about 178 billion gallons of water enter the marsh plain.

• There are more species of birds in the Pantanal (656 species) than in North America (500) and more species of fish than in Europe (263 in the Pantanal versus about 200 in European rivers).

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica