Situated in the Central West of Brazil, the Pantanal marshlands cover around 250,000 km2, straddling the States of Mato Grosso andMato Grosso do Sul, in addition to a part of Southern Bolivia and Northern Paraguay. It is the Brazilian ecosystem where fauna may be best observed, especially birds, of which there are over 600 species, more than all the species existing in Europe. The jabiru, with its red crop, white plumage, dark thin legs, black head and beak is considered to be the typical bird of the Pantanal and it is the delight of photo safaris, alongside the macaws, eagles, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, rheas, herons, sparrow-hawks, parrots, divers, teals, toucans and so forth. The best time for birdwatching is May to October, when flights of birds and natural aviaries house up to 5,000 individuals.
The jaguar, the largest feline of the Americas, lives in the forests, although it is difficult to spot owing to its nocturnal habits.
In the rainy season the rivers burst their banks, in some places reaching up to 3 metres above the riverbed in January and February, flooding this huge alluvial plain, the rivers form bays and outlets, creating islands where the animals take refuge. Among mammals the most easily observed are the capybara, the world’s largest rodent, which weighs up to 60 kilos when adult and can be seen in bands of up to 10 to 100 individuals, in addition to anteaters, deer, white-lipped peccaries, tapirs, various species of otters and five species of monkeys. The jaguar, the largest feline of the Americas, lives in the forests, although it is difficult to spot owing to its nocturnal habits.
Sport fishing, allowed outside spawning time (generally between September and January) is one of the activities in greatest demand in this peculiar ecosystem and in its rivers, such as the Cuiabá, Paraguay, Pixaim, Mutum, Taquari and São Lourenço. With around 300 species of fish, one can catch Amazon catfish, snappers, Platystomatichthys, Bagrus reticulatus, Brycon nattereri and Brycon orbignianus, in addition to the famous and dreaded piranha – the soup of which, a typical local dish, is considered to be an aphrodisiac.
Another famous and plentiful animal of the Pantanal is the alligator, which can be seen warming itself in the sun on the banks of lagoons and rivers.
Another famous and plentiful animal of the Pantanal is the alligator, which can be seen warming itself in the sun on the banks of lagoons and rivers. They are the high points of night outings, when their eyes reflect the light of the torches of guides and ecotourists. Other reptiles are also found in the Pantanal, including chameleons, teju lizards, land turtles, anacondas and boa constrictors.
In the Pantanal it is also possible to go on river cruises on boats generally used for fishing and which sail mainly on the rivers Paraguay, Taquari, Cuiabá and São Lourenço, on routes which combine fishing, animal watching and visits to refuges and natural reserves.
In describing the Pantanal, we must not omit to mention the important and well adapted presence of man, on beef cattle ranches, where the cowboy rules with his rustic ways, culture and a rich folk tradition.