World’s largest wetland threatened in Brazil
Jaguars still roam the world’s largest wetland and endangered
Hyacinth Macaws nest in its trees but advancing farms and industries are
destroying Brazil’s Pantanal region at an alarming rate.
The degradation of the landlocked river delta on the upper Paraguay
river which straddles Brazil’s borders with Bolivia and Paraguay is a
reminder of how economic progress can cause large-scale environmental
“It’s a type of Noah’s Ark but it risks running aground,” biologist
and tourist guide Elder Brandao de Oliveira says of the Pantanal.
Brazil’s exports of beef, iron and to a lesser extent soy — the main
products from the Pantanal — have rocketed in recent years, driven
largely by global demand.
Less well-known than the Amazon rain forest, the Pantanal is larger
than England and harbors a huge fresh water reserve and extraordinary
wildlife, ranging from 220-pound (100-kg) jaguars to giant otters that
mingle in water holes packed with nine-foot (3-metre) caimans.
The world’s largest freshwater wetland, it is almost 10 times the
size of Florida’s Everglades.
Of the Pantanal’s 650 bird species, the largest has a wing span of
nearly 3 metres (yards) and the smallest weighs only 2 grams (0.07
During the rainy season the water level rises by as much as five
metres (yards), creating a mosaic of dark-brown swamps with islands of
shrubs and tall standing tropical trees. When the water first hits dry
soil it loses oxygen and kills schools of fish as part of a
nose-wrenching natural life cycle..
A melting pot for various ecosystems, the Pantanal has the greatest
concentration of fauna in the Americas, according to The Nature
Conservancy, a global environmental advocacy group.
But some species are in danger of disappearing, including the long-snouted
giant anteater, which claws into anthills and flicks its two-foot tongue
up to 160 times per minute to quickly gobble up stinging ants.
The giant armadillo and maned wolf are also on the list of endangered
species because of their falling numbers.
Visitors to the Pantanal marvel at the idyllic scenery and the
proximity and abundance of wildlife.
“I hadn’t heard about it before, it’s a bird-lovers’ paradise,” said
Alkis Ieromonachou, a Cypriot tourist, eyeing a group of giant Jabiru
storks from the deck of a bungalow.
The impact of modern farming is obvious even in the tourist resort,
however, as a large herd of cattle wanders through the swamp, squashing
floating lily pads.
Cattle ranchers cut trees on higher elevations and sow pasture in the
lowlands, which are flooded for months.
Many say they have been here for decades and can’t be expected to
abandon the land and their livelihood. “True, deforestation is a problem
but 50 years ago when it began nobody thought of these things,” said
Ademar Silva, head of the local association of farmers and cattle
ranchers. “The government needs not only to punish bad behavior but
promote new technology with financial incentives.”
Brazil’s beef exports have more than tripled in five years to $5
billion in 2008, with pasture often replacing forests. Experts say
improving productivity, from currently around one head of cattle per
hectare (2.5 acres), could prevent much deforestation.