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Pantanal

Brazil's undiscovered wilderness

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ABOUT THE PANTANAL - compliments of Araras Eco Lodge

The Pantanal, considered to be the world`s biggest wetland area, covers an area of approximately 150,000 km situated in the upper Paraguay River Basin.

The greater part lies in Brasil, divided between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, extending into Bolivia and Paraguay.

The Pantanal, with an elevation of between 80-150 meters is surrounded by higher plateaus and this is where the Pantanal river system springs from.

When the Portuguese discovered the basin they actually took it for a permanent inland sea and on the oldest maps of South America the area is named "Sea of Xaras". Only a bit more than 200 years ago the first Portuguese settled down in the region and gave it the name it has today: "O Pantanal", which in Portuguese means "The Swamp".

The Pantanal is not a real swamp though; it's a floodplain. Every year during the wet season, November to April, up to 2/3 of the whole area gets inundated by the complex river system. The annual rainfall in the Pantanal is between 1,000 – 1,400 mm, which compared to the Amazon isn't a lot. But the slope of the Pantanal is extremely slight: only 2 cm/ km in a north-south direction and the rivers are not able to cope with the rain water and overflow their banks. During this season only islands and forests on higher elevations remain dry. After the wet season comes dry season. The floodplain drains into the Paraguay river, part of the second longest river system in South America and life vein in the Pantanal and very slowly the wet lands turn into dry grasslands. As a result of the rain there is a huge flood wave that moves through the Pantanal. It takes this wave six months to go from the north to the south of the Pantanal. So in the south, a couple of months after the end of the rainy season, all of a sudden the water level rises again and the savanna gets flooded once more for a while. By the end of the dry season only a few spots of water are left and this is when you get the famous congregations of wildlife in the Pantanal.

The Pantanal is noteworthy for its extraordinary bio diversity and abundance of wildlife and is known as "the world's biggest ecological sanctuary".

The vegetation of the Pantanal is mainly a mixture between three of the most important Eco-systems of South America; the Chaco with its dry forest formations to the south, the savanna-like Cerrado to the east and the Amazon jungle to the north. As a result of the topography and the seasonal climate the landscapes consist of swamps, seasonally flooded grass and woodlands, and various types of forest (evergreen, semi deciduous, gallery etc.). This mixture has caused the Pantanal to house the highest concentration of wildlife in all of the Americas.

In the Pantanal region occur around 700 species of birds (compared to about 500 in all Europe). It is one of the most important breeding grounds for typical wetland birds such as heron, stork, ibis and pink spoonbill that are found in enormous flocks. The magnificent Jabiru with its red neck and black head; the biggest stork of the Americas is known as the symbol of the Pantanal. Quite evident are also the 26 species of parrot including the endangered blue hyacinth macaw, the world's largest parrot more than one meter long. Of other characteristic birds can be mentioned the rhea – the South American version of the ostrich. The large quantity of birds of prey – represented by 45 species – indicates a well balanced ecosystem.

The Pantanal is also one of the last refuges for many threatened South American mammal species such as jaguar, puma, ocelot, manned wolf, giant otter, giant anteater, giant armadillo, marsh deer (the biggest deer of South America), peccary (the south American wild pig) and tapir. The most characteristic mammal of the Pantanal is the capybara (the world's largest rodent up to 70 kg), that can be observed during the dry season in herds of up to 100 individuals. Monkeys are represented by 5 species.

Most evident among the around 50 species of reptiles are the Paraguayan caiman which is still quite abundant despite heavy poaching in the past and the world's largest snake the anaconda.

The many rivers and lakes of the Pantanal sustain a varied fish life of at least 260 species including several species of piranha as well as catfish of up to 120 kg.

Almost 99% of the Pantanal is privately owned land consisting of "fazendas", large cattle ranches. No cities are found in the Pantanal, only about 2,500 fazendas. In recent years the grasslands have fed up to 8 million head of cattle. Little of the area has been unaffected by the cattle and the activities of the local "Pantaneiros", but it is generally considered that these factors have left the nature relatively unharmed.

During the last decades, however, the Pantanal has been under serious attack. The area and its wildlife are threatened by a number of human activities such as poaching aimed at the international skin and pet trade, deforestation, man-made fires, illegal over fishing and uncontrolled tourism. The biggest thread in the long run, however, is the environmental contamination coming from the surrounding highlands where most of the population and activities in the region are found. Via rivers the Pantanal receives from these uplands substantial amounts of chemicals from agriculture, mercury from gold mining, untreated sewage and waste from cities and organic waste with high oxygen demand from various agro industries.

The Brazilians have a saying: "o Pantanal vida" – "the Pantanal is life". If this unique and precious life is to be saved the Pantanal needs a lot of help.

Suggestion for further reading:
Vic Banks, "The Pantanal – Brazil's forgotten wilderness", Sierra Club Books 1992


SEASONS - compliments of Caiman Ecological Refuge:

When is the best time to visit Pantanal?
The scenery of the Pantanal changes with every new season, but it remains always exuberant. Each one of the seasons has its own characteristics, varies year-to-year according to the presence or absence of rain. The average annual precipitation is 1500mm, the majority of which falls between the months of November and March.

Temperature:
The Pantanal is a flat plain, naturally open and without big mountains to block cold fronts. Because of that, the temperature may vary a lot in a short period.

The summer is hot, with temperatures around 25C (77F) to 40C (104F). During the winter the weather is mild and dry, with temperature varying from 18C (64F) to 30C (86F), but the occasional cold front can bring temperatures as low as 8C (46F). So, if you plan visit the Pantanal from June to August, is important to be prepared to these unpredictable cold fronts.

JANUARY through MARCH - WET SEASON
With the summer rains, as parts of the Pantanal are flooded, the fauna and flora reinvigorate and Pantanal reveals one of its most lively seasons. The main characteristics of this season are the beautiful water landscapes, and many water birds such as the Jabiru Stork, Woodstorks, Limpkins, ducks, teals and egrets. Among the common mammals we can find the Capybaras, Crab-eating Foxes, and the Grey-brocket and Pampas deer. The water plants are in bloom with different shapes and colors throughout the lakes and rivers. Also abundant are butterflies and other interesting insects. The wet season is also the best time to watch the most beautiful sunset of the year.

APRIL through JUNE - INTERMEDIATE SEASON
In April, the rains stop and the water level begin to recede, giving rise to lagoons and water puddles. Here, thousands of fish are trapped, providing a food banquet for the water birds which concentrate in these regions. The temperature becomes milder and the night skies are filled with stars. The mammals, which dispersed in the wet season, start to come back and show themselves. Species such as the White-lipped Peccaries, Collared Peccaries, Marsh Deer and the Howler and Capuchin Monkeys can often be seen.

JULY through OCTOBER - DRY SEASON
The best time to observe wildlife. The lack of rain diminishes the lagoons, revealing the flat grounds and aiding transportation by land. The fields begin to dry, providing vast grazing areas where mammals search for food and water in the remaining water puddles. From August on, the Tabebuia trees blossom – locally known as Piuvas (with pink flowers) and Paratudos (yellow flowers). This is the breeding season for birds – their plumage is at their best condition and their calls can be heard throughout the Pantanal. This is also the best season to observe Giant Anteaters, Crab-eating Racoons and South-American Coatis.

NOVEMBER through DECEMBER - RAINY SEASON
The period when there is a lot of rain in the Pantanal, but not enough to flood. Due to the long dry season, it takes a while for the soil to saturate to the point of flooding. It is also a season of a great abundance of food for birds that started their breeding in the past months. It is very common to see chicks being fed by their parents.

WHAT TO BRING? Compliments of Caiman Ecological Refuge
Below you will find our suggestions:

  • Insect repellent – which should be taken with you during the activities
  • Sun screen or sun blocker
  • Casual clothing, comfortable and resistant. Cotton clothes are lighter and more comfortable than synthetics. But some synthetics like supplex or tactel are good, as they dry faster, are lighter and can be easily packed
  • Short pants and T-shirts are appropriated for some activities, although you also should bring long trousers as well. A long sleeves shirt of light color is also very useful, against sun and bugs. It is important to consider that dark clothes like black and dark blue attracts mosquitoes
  • The best colors to wear are the light tones, like brown, beige and green, which don’t highlight you in the landscape, not scaring the animals. Avoid strong colors like yellow, blue and red
  • A raincoat or poncho is necessary in the wet season, but always recommended, even in the dry season
  • A wind break coat is recommended in all seasons, and if you plan visiting the Pantanal from June to August, winter time in Brazil, make sure to bring heavier coats, as cold fronts reach the Pantanal very suddenly and temperature can drop drastically
  • Comfortable shoes, like hiking shoes or tennis shoes, at least two pairs, if you come during the wet season, as they usually get wet during the activities. In the hotel areas, sandals and flip-flops are safe
  • A small day pack could be useful to carry your equipment, insect repellent, etc, during the tours
  • Controlled Medications and of habitual use – remember that you are going to a remote area, where some medicines are hard to be found
  • We remind you that there are swimming pools at all lodges, thus, bathing suits are recommended
  • Photographic camera
  • Sun glasses with UV filter
  • Hat or cap
  • Binoculars – extremely useful during the activities. Can be rented at the reception desk