Learn the geography and topography of the bio-diverse Pantanal region, and why it's such a popular destination for Jaguar tours to South America.
If you're researching itineraries for dedicated Jaguar tours to South America, there's a high chance the one you choose will be conducted in the Brazilian Pantanal. Renowned as a highly bio-diverse region, it enjoys the title of the largest tropical wetland in the world, making it extremely popular with serious wildlife watchers, especially for Jaguar tours.
What is the Pantanal?
The Pantanal sits almost at the centre point of South America, encompassing regions in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, with most of the bio-diversity occurring in the floodplains of Brazil. In the 75,000 square miles of wetlands, savannah, and jungle that comprise the area, there are around 300 species of mammals, 1,000 avian species, 500 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 9,000 invertebrate sub-species.
Shaped like a giant 'basin', the terrain is, for the most part, fairly flat, rising to 200 metres above sea level at its highest point. It has an ever-changing topography, with countless seasonal lakes, rivers and ponds (occurring due to the huge rainfall and water run off), and savannahs and denser forests in the higher elevations.
The name 'Pantanal' is derived from a Portuguese word meaning swamp or wetland and, during the wet season, approximately 80% of the region's floodplains are under water. These conditions support the abundance of aquatic plants that are such a defining feature of the intricate eco-system.
Beautiful and Bio-diverse
As the region has only existed as a wetland since the last glacial period, many of the plant and animal species are not endemic. Due to seasonality and extreme fluctuations in water levels across the basin, there are lots of migratory fish species, which breed in the flooded lakes and rivers once per year, returning to permanent rivers for the rest of their time. There is also a vast, seasonal population of migratory birds who make their way from the Arctic, Patagonia, or beyond to breed alongside the abundant resident avian population.
The lush habitat supports several endangered or threatened species in substantial numbers, including the Giant Otter, Hyacinth Macaw, Pampas Deer and, of course, the magnificent Jaguar. With the densest concentration of the big cat on the planet, it's no surprise it's the premier location for Jaguar tours in South America.
Threats to the Pantanal
Only a small percentage of the Pantanal has protected status - the UNESCO Conservation Complex covers around 187,818 ha, which represents just 1.3% of the total area. The majority of the region is privately owned and used primarily for cattle ranching or agriculture. Erosion, pesticide and silt run-off from farming and mining activities, deforestation, poaching, pollution, and uncontrolled tourism are all aspects that threaten the eco-system and, therefore, the survival of many of the native species.
While dedicated conservation projects like the renowned Caiman Ecological Refuge are making great progress in educating local ranchers on how to maintain a successful coexistence with the Jaguar, the greatest threat to the region comes from the possibility that the three governments (Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay) could push ahead with proposals for a shipping route and the construction of dams for hydro-electricity.
However, with improvements in road networks and eco-tourism (like Jaguar tours) enjoying an increased profile in the area, it's hoped such projects will not be pursued.
Jaguar Tours, South America