Pantanal Conservation Complex (17°26’-17°52’S and 57°10’-57°41’W) is a World Heritage Site and is located in western central Brazil.
The nominated World Heritage site consists of a cluster of sites located in western central Brazil, at the south-western portion of Matto Grosso State and the north-western portion of Matto Grosso do Sul State, at the international border with Bolivia and Paraguay. Approximate co-ordinates are 17°26’-17°52’S and 57°10’-57°41’W.
Date and history of establishment
The Pantanal Mattogrossense National Park (PMNP) was designated as such by Federal Decree No. 86,392 of 24 September 1981; the three private reserves were designated as Private Reserves of the Natural Heritage (PRNH) by Federal Decree No. 1,922 of 6 June 1996. PMNP was declared as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site) in 1993.
The nominated World Heritage Site includes a total extent of 187,818 hectares (ha), distributed as follows: PMNP, 135,000 ha; Dorochê PRNH, 26,518 ha; Penha PRNH, 13,100 ha; and Acuziral PRNH, 13,200 ha.
Land in PMNP is owned by the Federal government; land in the three PRNHs is private and belong to the Ecotrópica Foundation.
From 80 meters (m) to 900 m (at the top of the Amolar Mountain Range)
The nominated World Heritage Site includes a representative sample of the Brazil’s Pantanal, which is the principal component of one of the world’s largest freshwater wetland ecosystems. While the entire Pantanal region extends into the neighbouring countries of Bolivia and Paraguay, approximately 80% of the area is in Brazil. Located on the country's western side, Brazil's Pantanal is an immense alluvial plain, spanning 140,000 square kilometers (km2) throughout the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. Its landscape encompasses a variety of ecological sub-regions, including river corridors, gallery forests, perennial wetlands and lakes, seasonally inundated grasslands and terrestrial forests.
Surrounded by mountain ridges and plains, the region presents a flat landscape with a small inclination which follows a north to south, east to west direction. From October to April, heavy rains cause the Paraguay River and its tributaries (such as the Sao Lourenço, Cuiaba, Taquari, Miranda, Negro and Aquidauana) supplying the Pantanal’s waters to overflow, flooding an area almost ten times the size of the Florida Everglades. The Pantanal can be broadly classified into three sub-regions according to the degree and duration of flooding as determined by local topography: (1) the Alto Pantanal, the relatively higher elevations where about 20 percent of the area floods to depths of 30-40 centimeters (cm) for two to three months per year; (2) the Medio Pantanal, a transitional zone where more extensive flooding last from three to four months; and (3) the Baixo Pantanal, the low-lying areas where little topographic relief translates into almost complete inundation to depths of 3-4 m during the rainy season.
The main source of water for the Pantanal is the Cuiaba River, the origins of which lie in the sub-basins of the Manso River and its main tributary, the Casca River. These headwater basins in the watershed cover an area of approximately 4,650 km2. The Cuiaba River is the principal tributary of the Paraguay River; these two rivers are functionally among the most important waterways in the Pantanal. It extends 1,000 kilometers (km) from its origin to its confluence with the Paraguay River. Draining an area of approximately 100,000 km2, the Cuiaba River reaches the mouth of the Paraguay River with an average discharge of 480 cubic meters (m3) per second. The complexity of it’s hydrological regime reflects that of the greater Pantanal. While hydrological studies have documented, to some extent, the dynamics of the water basin, they also indicate the presence of a network of underground streams and a degree of subsurface water movement. The water spreads and covers broad expanses, seeking a natural outlet, which will only be found hundreds of kilometers downstream, at the confluence of the river and the Atlantic Ocean, beyond the Brazilian territory. The floods can cover up to two thirds of the Pantanal area. Every May the ebbing starts and the water level slowly begins to fall. When the ground is once again dry, a fine layer of humus loam covers the surface (a mixture of sand, remains of animal and plant matter, seeds and humus), which greatly enriches the soil.
Acurizal and Penha PRNHs are located on a strip of land between the Paraguay River and the Amolar Mountain Range. They present an abrupt transition between seasonally flooded environments and the mountains, representing a unique height gradient.
The Pantanal has a tropical semi-humid climate with a mean annual temperature of 25oC and a mean annual precipitation of 1100 millimeters (mm) concentrated into a rainy season from October to March.
The vegetation of the proposed World Heritage site is located in an area of ecological tension between the dry-savanna (Cerrado) of central Brazil and the semi-deciduous forest of the south and southeast. The diversity of interacting habitat types and the direct connection with neighboring South American phytogeographic regions produce a remarkable, albeit poorly known, plant diversity. Cerrado occurs on seasonally flooded lowlands, and is characterized by relatively open fields or "campos" dominated by grasses of Paspalum sp., Hemathia sp., Digitaria sp. and Axonopus sp., with small palm trees and scrubs. In areas to the west, higher trees of jatobá Hymeneae sp., ipês amarelo e roxo Tabebuia sp. and taperabá Spondias sp., and the acurí palm Attalea sp are found. There is an area with semi-deciduous alluvial forest with small trees (10-15 m in height) and bushes. Dominant species are amarelao Apuleia molaris, capirepana Licania sp., ingá Inga sp. and ucuuba Virola sp. A semi-deciduous forest composed of taller trees (15-18 m in height) of bacupari Rheedia macrophyla and louro-preto Nectandra mollis, among many others, grows on lowlands.
In permanent "baías", floating island masses of riverine vegetation or "camalotes" are found. Typical of swamps, near the rivers and on water-logged patches of earth are clumps of acurí palm trees, forming the palm-tree groves and palm woodlands which the region is famous for. The slopes of the Amolar Mountains are covered by several vegetation types, including savannas and the very endangered Bolivian lowland dry forests.
While the Pantanal is a single biome, it is composed of at least 10 biogeographic units with varying soil, vegetation and hydrology, and thus different animal communities. The fauna of the Pantanal is extremely diverse and includes 80 species of mammals, 650 birds and 50 reptiles and 400 fishes. Dense populations of species of conservation concern such as jaguar Panthera onca (NT), marsh deer Blastocerus dichotomus (VU), giant anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla (VU) and giant otter Pteronura brasiliensis (VU) live in the region.
The Pantanal is a sanctuary for birds with many species occurring in large numbers. It is one of the most important breeding grounds for typical wetland birds such as Jabiru stork Jabiru mycteria as well as several other species of herons, ibis and ducks, which are found in enormous flocks. Parrots are also very diverse, with 26 species recorded in the area including hyacinth macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus (VU), the world's largest parrot. A large proportion f the remnant wild population of this species, estimated in about 3,000 birds, inhabit the region. Habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade are two factors that, in combination, have led to the risk of extinction. It is impossible to calculate the size of the original population of hyacinth macaws, but there is no doubt that the abundance observed in the last century no longer exists. Naturalists told of seeing hundreds of hyacinth macaws at a time in expeditions to Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, where the species is practically extinct. Capture for the national and international pet trades, as well as occupation of their habitat by agriculture and cattle ranching, caused the death of thousands of birds annually. Even today, the species’ population is limited by the fact that 95% of nests, in the Pantanal, are located in a single type of tree. The macaws occupy the upper part of the trees, which makes their observation difficult. Only recently the technique of using radio transmitters on collars was developed, permitting detailed study of the species’ movements and behavior. This advance is especially significant because birds travel more than 25 km per day. As a result, the basic biology of many macaws is still little understood.
The Cuiaba River basin was one of the first colonized areas in western Brazil, where "bandeirantes" arrived in the XVI Century using the Paraguay river to gain access to the region. The first settlers came through the Tietê, Paraná and Paraguay rivers from the São Paulo state to the Cuiabana Plain where they found gold. After the Paraguayan War and with the gold decadence, the settlement takes place in the north-south direction, appearing in the Pantanal region large extensive livestock farms, which associated to environmental factors have consolidated a rural structure constituted of large properties (56% of the area with farm greater than 10,000ha). In the beginning of this Century, the way to reach the large urban centers of the country were generally done through Asuncion, Buenos Aires and Montevideo, resulting then in the absorption of countless cultural and folkloric manifestations such as the music, dressing, language and food. The arrival of the railroad to Mato Grosso incorporated to the native inhabitants new habits and usage.
Local human population
The Brazilian Pantanal is accessible from the north via Cuiaba, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso and from the south via Campo Grande, capital of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Approximately three million people live in Brazil's Pantanal region and its neighboring highlands. Cuiaba was founded in 1719 and is the major city in the region located in the northern highlands with a population of almost one million people. There are no roads in the Pantanal except for the Transpantaneira, a raised dirt road that runs for 145 kilometers (km) with some 90 little wooden bridges due south from the town of Poconé which is located 100 km south-west of Cuiaba, to Porto Joffre. Originally the Transpantaneira was intended to extend further south-west to Corumbá, but lack of finance, technological problems as well as ecological considerations resulted in the road terminating at Porto Joffre, a small collection of buildings with a landing stage. The road from Campo Grande is paved for most of the distance of 400 km, although parts can be potholed and in general poor conditions.
The majority of the landowners in the southern lowlands region of the Pantanal rely on cattle grazing as their major means of income. The annual floods drive part of the rural population to cities and towns until the waters decline once again. In many areas, the road disappears due to the overflow of the rivers, which then become the common means of transport and communication. This situation, however, is significantly altered during the annual dry season, when much of the land emerges from the floods and becomes pasture.
Visitors and visitor facilities
The Park has newly built facilities for visitors. The level of visitation is, however, unknown. There are 46 large boats that bring tourists and some of them has capacity for carrying more than one hundred people. Cuiaba is well served by air as well as overnight bus from Sao Paulo. There are a number of vehicle rental companies at the airport and in the city center. It is not possible to hire a four-wheel drive, but during the dry season the Transpantaneira can be negotiable with a normal vehicle. There are a number of ranches ("fazendas"), which provide accommodation and food in styles ranging from basic to comfortable.
Scientific research and facilities
PMNP has good infrastructure for researchers, which was built using materials dragged from the Cuiaba River. This headquarters passed through major improvements and renovations during 1995 and 1996, with resources from the National Environment Programme (PNA), and currently has capacity to accommodate groups of up to 15 people, with meeting rooms, bedrooms and a laboratory. Research plans for PMNP is in discussion with diverse stakeholders.
The nominated World Heritage site includes an impressive sample of Brazil’s Pantanal diversity of landscapes, ecosystems and species, and of the complex geological and hydrologic cycles that this region involves. The biological and geographic corridor formed by the cluster of protected areas includes all key elements of Pantanal and nearby Amolar Mountain Range. The dry forests and savannas of the Amolar Mountain Range constitute perhaps one of the most endangered ecosystems in Latin America.
PMNP has an Emergency Plan and is starting to elaborate the management plan in the next few months. The Ecotrópica Foundation is currently working with the view to integrate the management of the three PRNHs with that of the Park. The Foundation is playing a major part in the negotiation of an agreement with the US Government to get the cluster of sites in a Sister Park Project with Everglades National Park; it is also raising funds to elaborate the management plan for the entire complex.
As regional development in the Cuiaba River Basin since the arrival of the "bandeirantes" has been steady, the modernization pressures in the region have essentially been of relatively low impact until the last two decades. Now, various development pressures in the region, along with the area's growing population, are threatening to compromise the Pantanal ecosystem. Agricultural development in the highlands portion of the Cuiaba River Basin has increased dramatically since the 1970s. Large areas of Cerrado vegetation have been cleared and transformed into massive agricultural operations, most of which are dedicated to soja (soybean) production for export. The deforestation of Cerrado for the purposes of agricultural production has resulted in extensive sedimentation buildup in the waterways of the lowland areas of the Pantanal. In addition, as the soil quality of Cerrado landscape is widely acknowledged as poor, farmers in the region have resorted to using vast amounts of agro-chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides in order to increase productivity. These additives have greatly increased the pH level of several important Pantanal waterways.
New settlements and urban growth are a constant threat. Unplanned settlement of the uplands, where the headwaters are located, is the most pressing danger. Indiscriminate farming practices are causing massive soil erosion and silting of rivers, a phenomenon that has already changed life in the Pantanal. Regions which used to be completely under water during the floods and totally dry during the dry season now remain covered by water throughout the year. Serious impact is also caused by illegal mining operations, the construction of hydroelectric power plants, unplanned tourism, and hunting by unemployed farm laborers, who make up veritable gangs looking for caimans and other animal skins.
Mineral extraction is a cause for concern in the region. Principally, the use of mercury to extract gold from the soils is posing a major threat to the health of Pantanal ecosystem. This removal process releases formidable amounts of this highly toxic substance into the soils and rivers which eventually flow into the waters of the Pantanal. Recent studies have indicated high levels of mercury in birds such as kingfishers and raptors, as well as in native fish. Both sewage and storm run-off from the rapidly growing population centers, is contributing with a heavy load of sediments and organic loading. Millions of gallons of untreated waste water enter the Pantanal's waterways each day. Dikes and canals built on upstream farms to create new pastures and fields alter water flow patterns and intensify floods downstream, affecting the natural balance between wet and dry seasons.
A major threat to the stability of the Pantanal’s complex hydrologic regime is posed by the Hidrovia, a massive navigational waterway regional project currently being considered in the region. This project intends to build an inland waterway more than 3,400 km long in the Paraguay and Paraná rivers, linking Cáceres in the State of Mato Grosso and Nueva Palmira, in Uruguay. The idea is to straighten and dredge the rivers in order to facilitate large ship navigation and, consequently, the transportation of Brazilian soybean harvests overseas. The works, however, will affect the natural dynamic of water flow patterns in the basin principally the Pantanal’s massive absorption of floods water followed by a slow release.
Cattle grazing is a time-honored tradition in the Pantanal and has generally been accepted as being compatible with the valuable ecosystem function of the region. There is growing concern, however, over cattle grazing effect on native vegetation, river sedimentation, soil erosion and infiltration, and habitat loss for the region's abundant wildlife.
Wildlife poaching and live animal trade are widespread although hard to quantify. During six months in l985, an estimated 18,800 kilograms (kg) of skins (representing more than 500,000 animals such as jaguars, manned wolves, caimans and snakes) were exported to European, Asian and North American markets. Only a fraction of this trade is confiscated and, although enforcement has improved, the majority of offenders are never captured. Pet collectors not only focus on parrots and macaws but also capture monkeys. A pair of hyacinth macaws has a market value between US$8,000 and US$10,000 in the USA and Europe. Regulations are inadequate and Pantanal's remote location and a general lack of enforcement has made poaching difficult to stop. Programs which attract tourists to the Pantanal have been developed without proper planning. The programs, which are growing rapidly in the northern Pantanal region, have caused an increase in illegal sport fishing, have created disturbances in bird nesting areas, and have created a demand for pollution-causing luxury items.
PMNP has a staff of eight, including a general director, one permanent ranger and six temporal ones that live in Cuiaba. The Ecotrópica Foundation has one person in Cuiabá, who is responsible for the three PRNHs, and three field-workers based on the reserves.
No detailed information on the budget currently available to the PMNP. There is a signed agreement between the Ministry of the Environment and the Interamerican Development Bank involving US$400 million for conservation projects in the entire Pantanal area, and this would include activities for about US$1 million or so in PMNP. The Ecotrópica Foundation has a budget of US$120,000 for the PRNHs.
IUCN management category
- Pantanal Matogrossense National Park II (National Park)
- Dorochê Private Reserve of the Natural Heritage Ia (Private Reserve)
- Acuziral Private Reserve of the Natural Heritage Ia (Private Reserve)
- Penha Private Reserve of the Natural Heritage Ia (Private Reserve)
- Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria i, ii, iv
There is a complete list of references in the official nomination. Other publications and articles worthy of mentioning are the following:
- Alho, C.J.R. et al.. (1988). Environmental degradation in the Pantanal ecosystem. BioScience 38: 164-171.
- Campello, S. (1994). Plano de Açao Emergencial do Parque Nacional do Pantanal Matogrossense. Brasilia, Brazil. 80 pp.
- Dinerstein, E., Olson, D.M., Graham, D.J., Webster, A.L., Primm, S.A., Bookbinder, M.P. and Ledec, G. (1995). A conservation assessment of the Terrestrial Ecoregions of Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Bank, Washington, DC. 122 pp + Annexes. ISBN: 0821332953
- Gottgens, J.F., Fortney, R.H., Meyer, J., Perry, J.E. and Rood, B.E. (1998). The case of the Paraguay-Paraná waterway ("Hidrovia") and its impact on the Pantanal of Brazil: a summary report to the society of wetlands scientists. Wetlands Bulletin: 12-18.
- Eberhard, A. (1999). Presentation of The Pantanal Conservation Complex as Natural Property to be nominated for inscription to the World Heritage List. 41 pp + Annexes .
- Henebry, G.M. & Kux, H.J.H. (1999). Spatio-temporal analysis of SAR image series from the Brazilian Pantanal.
- Mittermaier, R.A., Camara, I.G., Pádua, M.T.J. and Blanck, J. (1990). Conservation in the Pantanal of Brazil. Oryx 24 (2):103-112.
- Paiva Scardua, F. (1997). Plano de Pesquisa do Parque Nacional do Pantanal Matogrossense. 120 pp.
- Silveira, M. (1997). The South American Hidrovia Parana-Paraguay: Environment vs. Trade? International Environmental Law.
- The Nature Conservancy and Ecotrópica Foundation (1999). Protecting the Pantanal Region. Matto Grosso and Matto Grosso do Sul, Brazil.
- Rizzini, C.T. et. al. (1988). Ecossitemas Brasileiros/Brazilian Ecosystems. Index Editora, Rio de Janeiro.
- World Wildlife Fund (1999). Project Conservation of Biodiversity in the Pantanal.
Image by Luc Viatour (Wikimedia Commons)
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