Deforestation threatens Brazil's wetland sanctuary

Feb 03, 2012 by Eric Frosio
View of the Pantanal from the Cidade de Pedra viewpoint in the Chapada dos Guimaraes national park, Mato Grosso state, western Brazil on January 30. The Pantanal, a stunning biodiversity sanctuary in central-western Brazil, is threatened by intensive farming and deforestation, a leading environmental group warned as the world marked World Wetlands Day.

The Pantanal, a stunning biodiversity sanctuary in central-western Brazil, is threatened by intensive farming and deforestation, a leading environmental group warned as the world marked World Wetlands Day on Thursday.

Often referred to as the world’s largest freshwater wetland system, the Pantanal extends through millions of hectares of Brazil, eastern Bolivia and eastern Paraguay.

It includes sanctuaries for migratory birds, nursery grounds for aquatic life, and refuges for such creatures as the yacare caiman, deer, and jaguar. Some 4,500 different species live in the Pantanal.

A leading environmental group, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), is sounding the alarm about the growing threat to the region posed by intensive farming, deforestation, urban growth and the proliferation of hydro-electric dams.

As evidence the group cites a three-year study by 30 experts from , Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, the counties that share the Paraguay river, which flows from its headwaters in Mato Grosso about 2,600 kilometers (1,620 miles) to its confluence with the Parana River in Argentina.

A wild capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is seen in Pantanal near Pocone, Mato Grosso state, western Brazil on January 31. The Pantanal, a stunning biodiversity sanctuary in central-western Brazil, is threatened by intensive farming and deforestation, a leading environmental group warned as the world marked World Wetlands Day.

"The Pantanal is under threat," said biologist Glauco Kimura, who coordinates the Water for Life program at WWF.

"This may seem surprising but it is the sad reality. Our study shows that 14 percent of the Paraguay River basin must be urgently protected," Kimura said.

Navigating the Cuiaba river, an important Pantanal tributary, escorted by raptors and colorful parrots overhead, Kimura and his team stop at the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park, on a plateau at the edge of the Pantanal.

The threat, Kimura explains, comes from the highlands, known here as the Planalto.

A 'Pantaneiro' (herdsman) drives cattle along a road near Pocone, Mato Grosso state, western Brazil on January 31. The Pantanal, a stunning biodiversity sanctuary in central-western Brazil, is threatened by intensive farming and deforestation, a leading environmental group warned as the world marked World Wetlands Day.

"This region is like a plate," explains Kimura. "The Planalto on the edges and the Pantanal at the bottom of the plate." The Pantanal suffers from what goes on in the highlands, he says.

There are thousands of acres of farmland across the highlands. Soybeans are the region’s biggest crop, but corn, rice, cotton and sugarcane are also planted.

The Pantanal is also at risk from deforestation as cattle farmers cut down trees to make room for land for grazing.

Roughly 15 percent of the region's native vegetation has already been destroyed to make way for soybean cultivation and cattle ranching, according to the WWF, resulting in soil degradadation.

This worries Pierre Girard, a Canadian hydrologist at the Pantanal research center.

"Soybean is cultivated at the headwaters of the rivers that feed and then form the Pantanal. There are risks of erosion, but also of contamination of the Pantanal," he warns.

A native plant sprouts from the soil of the Cerrada plains in Chapada dos Guimaraes, Mato Grosso state, western Brazil on January 30. The Pantanal, a stunning biodiversity sanctuary in central-western Brazil, is threatened by intensive farming and deforestation, a leading environmental group warned as the world marked World Wetlands Day.

The WWF study -- conducted jointly with the US-based Nature Conservancy, another leading -- underscores the need for joint action by the countries and regions affected.

"There is no more space for as if there was an infinite stock of native forest to destroy and fresh water to pollute," says Kimura. "We need to protect ground water, create more protected areas and improve agribusiness practices."

Kimura believes that protecting the Paraguay river basin is crucial to conserve the region's unparalleled wildlife diversity. Currently only 11 percent of the basin is protected.

Explore further: Pilot plant for the removal of extreme gas charges from deep waters installed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Grazing as a conservation tool

May 03, 2011

Rotational grazing of cattle in native pasturelands in Brazil's Pantanal and Cerrado regions can benefit both cattle and wildlife, according to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Amazon deforestation on the rise again in Brazil

Aug 03, 2011

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon accelerated in June, with more than 300 square kilometers destroyed, a 17 percent increase over the previous month, government researchers said Tuesday.

Can feces save the species?

May 12, 2008

It’s a tough job, but somebody, or at least some dogs, have to do it. In the Cerrado region of Brazil, four dogs trained to detect animal feces by scent are helping researchers monitor rare and threatened wildlife such ...

Recommended for you

UN sends team to clean up Bangladesh oil spill

6 hours ago

The United Nations said Thursday it has sent a team of international experts to Bangladesh to help clean up the world's largest mangrove forest, more than a week after it was hit by a huge oil spill.

How will climate change transform agriculture?

7 hours ago

Climate change impacts will require major but very uncertain transformations of global agriculture systems by mid-century, according to new research from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Report: Radiation leak at nuclear dump was small

7 hours ago

A final report by independent researchers shows the radiation leak from the federal government's underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico was small and localized.

Confucian thought and China's environmental dilemmas

11 hours ago

Conventional wisdom holds that China - the world's most populous country - is an inveterate polluter, that it puts economic goals above conservation in every instance. So China's recent moves toward an apparent ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.