THE PANTANAL
Michael Ellis

Two of my favorite places both claim to be the largest inland wetland in the world. I don’t really care who is right. Both the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana and the Pantanal in west central Brazil have incredible concentrations of wildlife and are fantastic places to visit.

I just returned from the Pantanal, which is Portuguese for BIG SWAMP. When I first went there I was reminded of the Everglades. Both are expansive water wonderlands with isolated islands of vegetation and extensive grasslands. But the Pantanal is the same size as the entire state of Florida!

The rains come seasonally in this part of the Tropics – a lot of rain for a short period. The water drains off the east slope of the Andes and from the highlands that border the southern Amazon. Flowing more or less south, the waters gather in a massive basin. The lower end of the basin essentially doesn’t drain well and the water backs up every March. It wet years 70% of the Pantanal can be covered with water sometimes only 2 feet deep. It slowly drains out and by September the grasslands are pretty dry but there are still thousands of meandering rivers, creeks, and oxbow lakes.

There has been a cattle ranching here for over 250 years. The local cowboys are called Pantinerios and their lifestyle is more or less compatible with wildlife. And what wildlife. I have seen – ocelots, giant anteaters, tapirs, Hyacinthine macaws, Capuchin and marmoset monkeys, crab eating foxes, piranhas, toucans, anacondas, caimans, and giant river otters. When nature film companies doing shows on the Amazon actually want film the animals they are taking about, they come on down to the Pantanal where everything is easier to see.

The local cattle ranchers are not the original inhabitants. When they think of food they don’t think of Capybara Stew, they think cow parts. So they don’t hunt the local animals. Secondly the number of cows is limited by flooding, much of the available grass in under water for months. Therefore there has been little overgrazing.

Large wetlands are precious resources and so far this one is safe.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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November 8, 2010