Caiman in Brazil Photo
Brazil’s diverse ecosystems shelter caimans, anacondas, jaguars, uakari monkeys, pirarucus, giant otters, giant anteaters, and many other wildlife species.
©Julie Larsen Maher
Fishing in the Amazon River Photo
A man fishing by canoe in the Amazon River, where fish species outnumber that of the entire Atlantic Ocean.
Stephen Sautner©WCS
Sustainable Agriculture in Brazil Photo
WCS promotes sustainable agricultural practices throughout Brazil helping to balance the needs of people and the environment.
©Don P. Eaton

Brazil is the most biologically rich country in the world, encompassing numerous ecological zones and natural wonders. Standouts include the Pantanal in the country’s southwest, the world’s largest freshwater wetland; the Amazon, the largest tropical forest and most pristine wild place on the planet; the cerrado, a unique type of savanna; the semi-arid caatingas where Spix’s macaws once abounded; and the endangered Atlantic Forest, home to the largest New World monkey, the endemic muriqui. These landscapes also shelter jaguars, caimans, anacondas, red-faced white uakari monkeys, pirarucus, giant otters, and giant anteaters. Since the 1990s, Brazil has established the largest complex of protected tropical rainforests anywhere. Still, its biodiversity remains in peril, with large tracts of land being deforested or otherwise ecologically degraded, putting habitats and wildlife at risk.

Fast Facts

  • Brazil has the greatest number of mammal species in the world.
  • A single lake in Brazil can sustain a greater variety of fish than all of Europe’s rivers combined.
  • The number of fish species found in the Amazon exceeds that of the entire Atlantic Ocean.
  • Roughly 1 percent of the Amazon Basin is lost to deforestation every year.


Because the Amazon basin is a vast, relatively unexplored landscape, we still know very little about its biodiversity. We do know that the region is beset by poorly planned or inappropriate development, deforestation, overhunting, a rapidly expanding agricultural frontier, and road construction into remote areas. As with many other tropical rainforests worldwide, efforts to conserve it are hampered by lack of resources, political interest, and fast growth of agricultural industries—here, cattle and soy. The Purus River, a tributary of the Amazon River in the country’s west, is still surrounded by vast swaths of intact tropical forests, but also lies near the developing city of Manaus. As a result, it faces increasing pressure from commercial fishing, hunting, and logging interests. The river’s large fish populations and numerous caiman and turtle-hatching sites attract outsiders who seek to illegally exploit them for commercial sale.

In the Pantanal, growing threats to conservation include unsustainable ranching practices and major water control projects. As farmland encroaches onto former wilderness, people and wildlife are increasingly sharing their turf. This can lead to conflicts, as when hungry jaguars prey on livestock, and ranchers retaliate. Intensive cultivation of the highlands surrounding the Pantanal is possibly the biggest threat to the landscape, resulting in deforestation, changes in the flooding cycles, and pollution from agricultural runoff.

WCS Responds

In the early 1970s, WCS began supporting wildlife research and conservation efforts in Brazil’s Amazon basin with several field expeditions. The Brazil program expanded significantly in the early nineties under the leadership of Brazilian primatologist Márcio Ayres, who created Mamirauá, the first sustainable development reserve run largely by local people. Ayres was also instrumental in the creation of the world’s largest complex of tropical rainforest protected areas.

Today, WCS works in the Amazon basin, the Pantanal, and the Atlantic Forest to reconcile the needs of human needs with those of wildlife. In the Amazon, we work closely with Sociedade Civil Mamirauá and Instituto Piagaçu, to support and implement sustainable development, improve protected area management, and research a wide range of species, including the endangered pied tamarin. In Pantanal, we reach out to ranchers to help minimize livestock-carnivore conflict on private lands. WCS conservationists are also continuing to explore little-known wild places, particularly in the Amazon, in order to set conservation priorities and make new contributions to science. Our exploration team—the country’s best experienced—recently discovered several new species, including two new primates.

For more information, visit

WCS Projects

Gas Pipeline from Bolivia to Brazil

WCS and the Capitanía de Alto y Bajo Isoso, the indigenous organization representing the Guaraní people of Bolivia’s Chaco, have worked as partners for more than 15 years. The partnership has helped both institutions deal with challenges arising from the rapid expansion of Bolivia’s hydrocarbon industry into this fragile landscape.

From the Newsroom

Amazon Waters: Conserving Wildlife, Securing LivelihoodsApril 29, 2013

Dr. Julie Kunen, Director of WCS’s Latin America and Caribbean Program, describes the value of Amazon waters to the lives of millions of people and a spectacular array of wildlife. These waters are facing steep threats from a combination of infrastructure development and climate change.

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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