World Wetlands Day

February 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Arnaud Desbiez, Latin Coordinator for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

This Sunday 2nd February 2014 is World Wetlands Day, so here at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland we would like to tell you more about one of the most amazing areas of wetland in the world, the Brazilian Pantanal, and about our international conservation work here.

The Pantanal is the world’s largest continuous freshwater wetland. It is located in the centre of the South American continent and covers approximately 160,000 km² spread across three countries: 140,000 km² in Brazil, 15,000 km² in Bolivia, and 5,000 km² in Paraguay. This areas is mosaic of seasonally inundated grasslands, river corridors, lakes, gallery forests, scrub and semi-deciduous forests that supports an abundance of wildlife. The Pantanal is subject to an annual flood pulse, as well as multiyear variation of flooding intensity, which determines ecological patterns and processes, and is the driving force in the landscape.

Pantanal-from-the-airThe region is distinguished for its extraordinary concentration and abundance of wildlife. The Pantanal harbours large populations of charismatic South American species that are threatened by extinction outside this biome, among which are some of the largest populations of Pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus), marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus), and jaguar (Panthera onca). In total, there are about 41 species of amphibians, 177 reptiles, more than 260 fish, roughly 124 species of mammals and approximately 463 species of birds, making it the richest single wetland site for birds in the world.

Approximately 95% of the Pantanal is privately owned. Extensive cattle ranching started in the mid-18th Century. Under traditional management practices, that consist of the seasonal movement of herds among patches of native savannas, cattle ranching is considered to have a low environmental impact and to have positively contributed to the conservation of biodiversity in the region.

Photo by Kevin Schafer

Giant Armadillo – Photo by Kevin Schafer

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland initiated its work in the Pantanal in 2005 with a research project evaluating the impact of feral pigs on native species in the wetland. This important project led to many recommendations and has become an important reference for the study and management of invasive pigs, both in the Pantanal and other biomes in Brazil. In 2007 RZSS, in partnership with Embrapa Pantanal, launched an ambitious project to help land owners make informed decisions to manage their ranch in a way that is beneficial to both domestic herbivores and wild herbivores. Next, a new lab was set up in Corumba (in the middle of the Pantanal) and a new tool that analyses the diet of herbivores was created and used. This tool was made available free of charge in 2011 for other researchers in the world working on sustainable land management issues. Finally in 2010 RZSS, in partnership with a Brazilian NGO and many other North American and European Zoos, initiated a long term study on one of South America’s least known and rarest large mammals: the giant armadillo. In addition to capacity building and exciting environmental education opportunities, the ground breaking work is providing insights on many other poorly known species as well.

For further information about our initiatives in the Pantanal, please visit:



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