The Pantanal is among Brazil's greatest natural wonders. Located right in the middle of South America, the Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world, covering over 210,000 km2, from which 140,000 in Brazil alone.
Topographically, and in terms of its tourist potential, the Mato Grosso will always be dominated by the Pantanal, one of the world's largest swamps, which extends into both the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, and is renowned as one of the best places for spotting wildlife in the whole of South America. This vast area of wetlands, about half the size of France, lies in the far west of Brazil and extends into the border regions of Bolivia and Paraguay.
Not only is the Pantanal one of the most biologically rich environments in the world, with 656 bird species, 122 species of mammals and at least 276 types of fish, it also has the highest concentration of animal populations in all the Americas. It has an enormous concentration of birdlife, particularly when migratory birds settle here to feed and breed.
Many of the creatures in the Pantanal are big! Here you'll find both the giant anteater and the giant armadillo. In the many lakes and rivers of the Pantanal, you'll see giant otters and can also spot swimming anacondas - the world's biggest snake. And grazing on the giant water lilies of the region you'll encounter huge numbers of capybaras, the world's largest rodent.
Some of the many birds of the Pantanal come big too! There's the huge Jabiru stork, symbol of the Pantanal and known to the locals as the "too-yoo-yoo" bird. There's also the ema, also known as the greater rhea, which is the largest flightless bird of the western hemisphere. Then there's the rare and beautiful hyacinth macaw; largest of all parrot species.
Some of the fish species in the waters of the Pantanal, like the dourados, jaus and pacus can weigh up to 40 kg. The Brazilian tapir is the Pantanal's largest native mammal; larger even than the fabulous jaguar cat, which itself is larger in the Pantanal than anywhere else in the world.
One of the reasons why the Pantanal has an incredible biodiversity is that it has 2 distinct seasons; the wet and the dry one, which causes in- and outflow of water and produces very different types of ecosystems. During the wet season, from October to March, as much as 80% of the Pantanal may become flooded and water levels can be up to 5 m higher than during the dry season. When in May the water level slowly starts to fall, it leaves a fine layer of humus loam which greatly enriches the soil.
Nature repeats, every year, the spectacle of the floods that ensure the renewal of the fauna and flora of the Pantanal. The huge volume of water, which practically covers the whole Pantanal region, is truly a fresh water ocean, where thousands of fish live. Small fish feed larger bird and other animal species.
When the water level comes down, large numbers of fish are trapped in the lagoons and bays, unable to go back to the rivers. For several months, birds and carnivorous animals (alligators, otters, etc.) have abundant food at their easy disposal. As the water level continues to fall in the new shallow lagoons, fish like dourado, pacu and traĂra can be caught by hand. Small and large birds are seen planing over the water, creating a scene of endless beauty.
Threats to the stability of the Pantanal are over-fishing (a lot of tourist come to the Pantanal to fish), intensive agriculture (agrochemicals, herbicides and pesticides up in the waters all across the eco-systems), the ParanĂ¡-Paraguay Waterway (a plan to build a waterway over 3,400 km) and fires (every year in Augustus and September the farmers set fire to the forest for land clearing and other agricultural uses; this destroys great expanses of the Pantanal).
With 417,000 people the vast Brazilian part of the Pantanal is sparsely populated. People have lived and worked harmoniously in the Pantanal for at least the last 200 years, extensive cattle raising being the main activity on the large land properties.