The Pantanal is a fragile ecological wonder in need of management.
A dozen rivers flood some 80% of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands which stretches across western Brazil and into Bolivia and Paraguay, from the start of the rainy season in November. They course though a region which is a magnet for intrepid tourists, including those who love to fish.
Visitors are primarily lured by the chance to see exotic animals in their natural habitat, but ecologists urge delicate stewardship of a region awarded UNESCO biosphere reserve status in 2000.
“If we want there to be jaguars in 50 or 100 years then we must preserve the Pantanal,” says Douglas Trent, an American who has spent 30 years nurturing conservation projects in the area.
At 5.30am the sun is just up as Trent begins his day as chief researcher with the Bichos do Pantanal or “Pantanal animals” project, navigating hundreds of kilometres on the Paraguay River. He documents fauna and tracks the movements of jaguar, king of the American jungle, the apex predator in a Pantanal region covering some 210,000sqkm.
Sprawled lazily on the sand, their mouths open, are a group of Pantanal caiman, reptiles related to alligators and crocodiles. Nearby, a green iguana scales a tree, enjoying the region’s luxuriant riverside vegetation. The area boats 463 species of bird – including the Jabiru stork which can grow to 1.5m – as well as 263 kinds of fish and more than 2,000 plants.
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