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Pantanal, Brazil

Pantanal, Brazil Photo
Douglas Fernandes ©WCS

The word pantanal comes from the Portuguese word for swamp, pantano. Considered the world's largest freshwater wetland, the area stretches across portions of three nations: central-western Brazil, eastern Bolivia, and northeastern Paraguay. In Brazil, this region is bordered by the Cerrado, a highland plateau of savanna forests with headwater streams that drain into the Pantanal, and both biomes are closely linked ecologically.

WCS focuses its efforts in the Pantanal and Cerrado of Brazil. The landscape includes tropical forests, grasslands, lakes, lagoons, marshes, and rivers—all shaped by seasonal flood cycles lasting up to six months. The Pantanal and Cerrado also support a rich diversity of wildlife and plants, including white-lipped peccaries and hyacinth macaws, as well as abundant aquatic plants, freshwater invertebrates, fish, and wading birds.

The Pantanal provides many important ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, water purification, and regulation of rainfall and river flows. Though often overshadowed in the public's imagination by the Amazon, it has been designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve and is among the best preserved biomes on the continent.

Fast Facts

  • The Pantanal spans about 58,000 square miles, roughly the size of the U.S. state of Georgia.
  • The Pantanal boasts 740 species of birds, which were profiled in the WCS-supported publication Birds of Brazil.
  • The region is home to many thriving populations of wildlife species that are threatened in other parts of their range, such as giant river otters, hyacinth macaws, and white-lipped peccaries.
  • As seed dispersers, forest engineers, and prey for the region's iconic jaguars and pumas, white-lipped peccaries—pig-like forest mammalsplay an important role in maintaining local biodiversity.

Challenges

For more than a century, the only human activity in the region was small-scale cattle ranching. However, the Pantanal and Cerrado are undergoing increasing land-use change and habitat fragmentation. Growing threats to its conservation include unsustainable ranching practices and major water control projects. As farmland encroaches into formerly wild areas, people and wildlife are increasingly sharing their turf. This causes conflict among livestock, ranchers, and carnivores, such as jaguars. Further, large-scale, intensive cultivation of the Pantanal and Cerrado is another major threat to the landscape, resulting in deforestation, changes in the flooding cycles, increased CO2 emissions that contribute to global climate change, accelerated erosion and sedimentation that clog and divert rivers on the flood plain, and degradation of water quality.

WCS Responds

WCS is working with the Pantanal and Cerrado's ranchers to introduce sustainable land-use practices that help conserve the region's natural resources while also maximizing the efficient use and profitability of already-developed cattle ranches. WCS is evaluating the effects of native habitat conversion, fragmentation and loss of riparian (stream-side) forests on wildlife, forest flora, stream invertebrate, and fish communities.

WCS is conducting a long-term study of white-lipped peccaries, an important landscape species that is an excellent indicator of regional ecosystem health, considering they are vulnerable to impacts from land use change, hunting, and other human activities. Our vets conducted one of the first health assessments of the region's white-lipped peccaries. Working with colleagues from the State Institute of Animal Health in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, researchers have learned more about the prevalence of Leptospirosis, a dangerous bacterium, in these animals.

To increase community awareness of white-lipped peccaries and the need to conserve them and their habitat, we focus on youth who act as environmental ambassadors in their communities. For example, we sponsor a local girls soccer team in a small village in the region. We provide peccary-themed team uniforms to the players, who teach local residents and schoolchildren about the role peccaries play in shaping the landscape. This effort has helped WCS researchers gain the participation of landowners and rural workers in workshops and capacity-building courses that demonstrate the benefits of sustainable land-use practices. Together with environmental education programs with our eco-athletes and other students, WCS has helped reduce wildlife poaching and conflicts with carnivores, and minimize deforestation due to unsustainable ranching practices.

From the Newsroom

Sushi for Peccaries?April 29, 2013

A Champion for PeccariesMarch 8, 2012

Dr. Alexine Keuroghlian, peccary specialist and Pantanal/Cerrado Landscape Director for WCS–Brazil, has won the 2012 Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Grass Gets Greener for Cows and JaguarsMay 4, 2011

A WCS study finds when Brazilian ranchers rotate crops in the Pantanal and Cerrado, they get bigger cows, bigger profits, and better ecosystems for wildlife.

Checking Up on PeccariesMarch 24, 2011

WCS veterinarians working in Brazil evaluate whether forest fragmentation and other land-use changes make wildlife, as well as livestock, more susceptible to infectious diseases.

A Birder's-Eye View of BrazilMarch 23, 2011

A new book series, Birds of Brazil, explores how the hobby of birdwatching can encourage conservation. The first stop for the field guides? The Pantanal and Cerrado.

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