The Pantanal is best described as a small window of Africa in the heart of South America, without the big game! It is considered to be the world’s biggest wetland area, covering an area the size of Belgium and is situated between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul (to the north of Iguazu) and extends into Bolivia and Paraguay, with the majority of the Pantanal lying inside Brazil.
With an elevation of between 80-150 metres it is surrounded by higher plateaus, which in turn creates a drainage basin for the water runoff. Originally thought to be an inland sea until explored when they named it “O Pantanal”, which in Portuguese means “The Swamp”, but in reality it is a floodplain.
Every year during the wet season, November to April, over ¾ of this area becomes inundated by the complex river system and the rivers are not able to cope, overflowing their banks. During this season only islands and forests on higher elevations remain dry.
During the season, May to October, the floodplain drains into the Paraguay River, and as the month’s progress the wet lands subside. This leaves behind small pockets of water, trapping the fish, which in turn attracts large numbers of migratory birds and resident mammals.
The vegetation of the Pantanal is a mixture between three of the most important eco-systems of South America; the Chaco with its dry forest, the savannah-like Cerrado to the east and the Amazon jungle to the north. This diversity draws the highest concentration of wildlife in all of the Americas.
The Pantanal contains around 700 species of birds including 26 species of parrot. It 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 and tapir. The most characteristic mammal of the Pantanal is the capivara – the world’s largest rodent, which live in herds of up to 100 individuals. The Brazilians have a saying: “o Pantanal é vida” – “the Pantanal is life”.