The Pantanal, is considered to be the world’s biggest wetland area, it covers an area of approximately 150,000 km² situated in the upper Paraguay River Basin. The greatest part lies in Brazil, divided between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.
One of the biggest sedimentation plains in the world also spreads out to the neighboring countries of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, but of the total area, 140.000 km2, belongs to Brazilian territory. The huge plain, exposed to recurrent overflowing, presents light undulations, detached low mountains and several flat depressions. Its borders are demarcated by varied systems of elevations like plateaus and sierras, and it is cut by an impressive quantity of rivers, all of them belonging to the Paraguay Basin. There are few towns, people and roads in the Pantanal. It is an area of large fazendas, farms or ranches that may offer guest housing. In this immense, pristine and biologically rich environment, the Pantanal, there exists an extraordinary concentration of diverse flora and fauna, and a landscape spanning a variety of ecological sub-regions.
Enormous flocks of waders and waterfowl from America and Canada spend the winter months here. Though the Pantanal offers sanctuary for migratory ducks and geese moving between Argentina and Central America, most of the 600 species of water birds found here are residents that follow the changing water levels inside the huge swamp, in pursuit of the 350 species of fish that support them in the food chain. Rainfall cycles are the key to the Pantanal.
During the rainy season the rivers rise by more than 3 meters, flooding their banks and spreading into huge closed lakes where fish have been breeding. The waters activate ground vegetation and enable the overhanging trees to produce fruit on which the fish gorge themselves, before swimming through open canals to spawn in the rivers. Because the altitude varies little throughout the 600 km extension of the Pantanal, water drains slowly, producing a tremendous surge in fertility. During high water in the northern part, the southern Pantanal has shallow water, which attracts the wading birds.
After April, the situation is reversed and the birds fly northward to nest between June and September. Here the lakes are once again cut off from the rivers and their fish become captives for predators. The word ‘Pantanal’ derives from the word ‘pântano’, which generally translates as swamp, marsh, or bog. The Pantanal, however, is more than one of these specialized wetland types. The term designates a river floodplain region, an internal delta encompassing a variety of ecological sub-regions.
One can find in the Pantanal an aquatic system of large rivers and standing water, terrestrial systems, and diverse types of ‘wetlands’ the transitional, halfway world between aquatic and terrestrial systems. This area is an unparalleled wildlife sanctuary of spectacular beauty, an ecological paradise containing hundreds of species of birds, thousands of varieties of butterflies, myriads of brightly colored flowers, and shoals of fish.
The Pantanal is noteworthy for its extraordinary bio diversity and abundance of wildlife and is known as ‘the world’s biggest ecological sanctuary’. Animals like Capuchin and Howler monkeys, capybaras, toucans, anacondas, caimans and tapirs, the endangered jaguar, the increasingly rare Hyacinthine macaws and giant river otters, all make their home there. The Pantanal is also home to the New World’s largest concentration of animals with a variety far greater than seen in Africa. Unfortunately, the fauna of the Pantanal, which encompasses the biggest variety of mammals, birds and the second biggest variety of fresh water fish per square meter, has been threatened by poaching and smuggling and killing of animals. Palm trees, orchids, fafero, taboa and hundreds of other species compound the rich and colorful vegetation of Pantanal and are distributed among aquatic plants, ciliary forest, clean fields, cerrado and even caatinga (land covered with crooked trees and prickly plants).
The wonderful colors of the ipê trees (Brazilian timber) with their flowers varying from white and yellow to purple and pink, divide the show with the beauty of acácias, unhas de vaca and dozens of other species creating an always changing visual panorama year round. In areas not affected by the flood, it’s usual to find the pequi (tree that can be 10 meters high) that produces a fleshy fruit with a strong yellow pulp used in the pantaneira cookery and for the manufacturing of a liqueur very popular in the region. The huge variety of vegetation in the Pantanal provides nourishment, shelter and reproductive areas for all animal species in the area.
The pantaneiro man is also extremely dependent on the vegetation and makes use of it with the wisdom given by his direct and continuous contact with nature. As a wetland of exceptional size, the Pantanal has one of the most impressive freshwater fisheries on earth. The Pantanal is a truly unique and exquisite natural paradise. This magical place is the heart of the Brazilian interior and deserves to be seen.
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