The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland area, a flat landscape, with gently sloping and meandering rivers. The region, whose name derives from the Portuguese word “pântano” (meaning “swamp” or “marsh” ), is situated in South America, mostly within the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. There are also small portions in Bolivia and Paraguay. In total, the Pantanal covers about 150,000 square kilometers (58,000 sq mi).
The Pantanal floods during the wet season, submerging over 80% of the area, and nurturing the world's richest collection of aquatic plants. It is thought to be the world’s most dense flora and fauna ecosystem. It is often overshadowed by the Amazon Rainforest, partly because of its proximity, but is just as vital and interesting a part of the neotropic.
The Pantanal has an average yearly rainfall of 1,000-
During the rainy season (December to May), the Pantanal water levels rise more than three meters. Just as annual floods on the Nile allow for fertile, farmable land, the dramatic increase of water during the rainy season nourishes the producers of Pantanal, which in turn nourishes all the other species as well. Humans have taken advantage of this so much that it has become a problem. Approximately 99% of the land in the Pantanal is privately owned for the purpose of agriculture, and ranching in particular. There are some 2500 fazendas in the region, with up to 8 million head of cattle.
The Pantanal is a natural water treatment facility. It supplies freshwater to the nearby areas by removing chemicals and other pollutants from the water which flows through it. However, when this “cleaning system” becomes overloaded, species which call the Pantanal home begin to suffer. Industrial development (especially gold mining) has begun to cause these problems.
This ecosystem is home to a known 3,500 species of plants, as well as over 650 birds, 400 species of fish, around 100 species of mammals, and 80 species of reptiles, including the caiman, a species closely related to the alligator, of which there are an estimated 10 million. The Pantanal is a natural home for the Hyacinth Macaw. This bird is endangered due to its US$10,000 price tag on the black market. Other threatened species include the Jaguar, Caiman, Maned Wolf, Giant Otter, Giant Armadillo, Capybara, and Brazilian Tapir.
The ecosystem of the Pantanal is under threat from human activities, including uncontrolled recreational fishing, the hunting and smuggling of endangered species (caiman, panther, wild cats, parrots and macaws), uncontrolled tourism, and deforestation and forest fires for agricultural use in the neighbouring areas. In recent rainy seasons, flooding has been very high and caused the inundation of many cultivated areas surrounding the park. Receding flood waters carried large amounts of pesticides into the rivers and lakes, killing a great number of fish.
Pressure for economic development (such as oil pipelines and shipping canals) is of particular concern. A plan to dredge the
A portion of the Pantanal in
This park has been designated a Ramsar Site of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention since May 24, 1993.