Protecting the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland

Geographical location:

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Brazil

Sepotuba Valley expedition. Brazil.
© WWF Brazil / Eduardo Mongelli

Summary

The Pantanal, located in southwestern Brazil as well as parts of Bolivia and Paraguay, is the world’s largest wetland. Here, one finds howler monkeys, jaguars, hyacinth macaws, toucans, anacondas and much more.

Although large areas of the Pantanal remain untouched, it is threatened by expanding human settlement, unsustainable farming practices, illegal mining, hydroelectric power plant construction and unregulated tourism. WWF is working on the ground to protect the region through the creation of protected areas and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Background

The Pantanal in the Southwestern Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul is the world’s largest wetland and is famous for the richness of its wildlife.

Its considerable biodiversity includes, for example, more than 1,130 species of butterfly. It is also host to Capuchin and Howler monkeys, capybaras, toucans, anacondas, caimans and tapirs, hundreds of species of birds, a myriad of brightly coloured flowers, and shoals of fish. In addition, the endangered jaguar, and increasingly rare Hyacinthine macaws and giant river otters, all make their home in the Pantanal.

The area is still not densely occupied, with most inhabitants living in a few large towns on its edge.

There is no clear long-term vision of the kind of development that should take place there. This is a gap that WWF plans to help fill.

Objectives

1. Assess the conservation status of the Pantanal and prepare a strategic plan.

2. Establish a representative network of protected areas in the ecoregion.

3. Promote sustainable development.

4. Raise the profile of WWF.

Solution

The absence of any coherent strategy or vision for the Pantanal poses a major potential threat; but equally provides WWF with a clear opportunity to help shape the hitherto missing vision of conservation and sustainable development.

Some of the problems WWF and its partners face:
- Ranching is the dominant land use in the region - an industry now changing because ranchers are forced by economic conditions to raise productivity, and the break-up of large ranches after family deaths jeopardizes sustainability.
- Large companies are pursuing intensive agriculture which involves the building of dikes, the use of fertilizers and the introduction of alien grass species.
- An overarching problem in the region is the proposed construction of a waterway deep in the Pantanal which could destroy the wetland altogether.

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