BRAZIL'S PANTANAL, A WATER WORLD FOR EXOTIC BIRDS & BEASTS
In a land known equally for its raucous Carnival and swaths of rainforest, the landscapes and wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal personify the rich culture of this vast South American countries; eclectic, vivacious, colourful and mystical attitude.
The Pantanal, is one of the most immense, pristine and biologically rich environments on the planet, often described as the biggest swamp in the world this vast wetland area, which spreads across parts of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, may be less famous than the Amazon Rainforest but it’s one of the best places in the world to see wildlife in its natural environment. Capybara, anaconda, peccary, giant otters, metre-long macaws and ocelots are common sights and it is even possible to see that most elusive of South American mammals, the jaguar.
Established as a World Heritage Site in 2000, the Pantanal stands as one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Measured at almost 10 times the size of the Everglades this environment sets the stage for one of the best bird and wildlife-spotting experiences imaginable. The word pantano in both Portuguese and Spanish literally means ‘swamp’, but in fact this huge area, half of the size of France, is what remains of an ancient sea.
The Pantanal is divided into the Northern Pantanal, which is slightly higher, and the Southern Pantanal where the wetland environment is at its most intense. As you can imagine travelling to these remote areas can be difficult however most flights connect from Sao Paulo, to visit the Southern Pantanal, which remains very much untouched, and so offers a great opportunity to experience the Pantanal wetlands you need to fly to Cuiabá, the second main destination is Campo Grande, in the Northern Pantanal. This area is a bit more developed, but does offer Bonito, an excellent stop for eco-tourists, the hard to reach and resultantly more pristine Corumba with various lodging options and great opportunities for the sports-fishermen.
One of the best ways to explore the Pantanal is just like the locals do: on horseback. There are very few roads that exist in the Pantanal, and horses can carry you into areas that otherwise couldn't be reached due to flooding and other conditions.
Locals are known as Pantaneiros these are people who were born and live in the Pantanal wetlands. More than native people, the Pantaneiros represents a fascinating traditional culture and lifestyle, which was formed and influenced by different cultures and the peculiar characteristics of such an isolated natural ecosystem as the Pantanal. The first inhabitants of the wetlands were different indigenous groups, who lived along the rivers and higher areas nearby, using the region mainly for hunting and fishing. But today’s settlement came about approximately 200 years ago, pushed by the explorers who were moving up from the north looking for gold and precious metals. Cattle-ranching was the only viable economic activity which matched the singular environment of the Pantanal, this lead to families starting to settle and live there, founding ranches and raising cattle in huge unexploited areas.
Different people came to work in those ranches, and different cultures were brought with them. Many Paraguayans crossed the border and influenced local customs and habits, as well indigenous groups and the gauchos with the cattle traditions from south Brazil and Argentina. From this great mixture the Pantanal people absorbed, adapted and transformed different cultural aspects, creating a unique culture and way of life working in harmony with the wilderness.
Threats to the Pantanal
Roughly 80 percent of the Pantanal is located in Brazil, and of that, 98 percent is privately owned. Therefore, the Brazilian government is limited in its power to control what happens to that area. In Bolivia and Paraguay, the Pantanal is more protected. But only 10 to 15 percent of the total area lies in Bolivia and 5 to 10 percent in Paraguay.
Various hydrological projects pose some of the greatest threats.
One proposed project is called Hydrovia, This project, which would require considerable dredging and removal of rock outcroppings, has not been approved. Nonetheless, there is a danger that it is being implemented on a piecemeal basis. River dredging has happened on a smaller scale in the Pantanal, for example. If there's considerable dredging, water flows at deeper depths and more quickly. This could drain the Pantanal, and alter its diverse ecosystems.
Another danger has to do with development of the area. Removing trees along the riverbanks causes rivers to fill up with sediments. This results in the creation of new river channels and flooding in new areas. Other threats include water contamination, including mining by-products, agrochemicals, sewage and garbage, and loss of biodiversity from various anthropogenic effects such habitat destruction, poaching, over-fishing, and so forth