Located in western central Brazil, the Pantanal region is one of the world's most extensive wetland complexes with an abundant, diverse, vegetation and animal life. The Pantanal Conservation Area consists of a cluster of four protected areas, while the Biosphere Reserve includes four national parks.
The Pantanal Conservation Area comprises a cluster of four contiguous protected areas: the Pantanal Matogrossense National Park and the Special Reserves of Acurizal, Penha and Doroche, covering a total area of 187,818 ha (464,108 acres). This protected area complex is located in western central Brazil, in the extreme southwest of the Mato Grosso e Mato Grosso do Sul State and the international border with Bolivia and Paraguay.
The spectacular landscape of the wetlands of the property bordered by the Amolar mountainous chain originates in the combination of steep cliffs with annual hydrological extremes. The headwaters of the region's two major river systems, the Cuiabá and the Paraguay rivers, are located here, and the abundance and diversity of its vegetation and animal life are spectacular.
During the rainy season, between October to April, the rivers overspill and flood vast regions, leaving only small areas inundated. At the end of this period, the waters slowly descend leaving numerous small temporary lakes.
The transition between the seasonally flooded areas and the mountains is abrupt and this ecological gradient is unique to the whole Pantanal region, offering a dramatic landscape. Located between the river basins of Cuiabá and Paraguay, the site plays a key role in the spreading of nutritive materials during flooding as well as in the maintenance of fish stocks in the Pantanal.
The Pantanal is extremely important for the conservation of biological diversity and the property contains representative habitats comprising around 80 species of mammals, 650 species of birds, 50 of reptiles and 300 of fish (thus the Reserve is vital for the maintenance of fish stock). The number of aquatic plant species found there is also remarkable.
Several worldwide threatened species are present here, including the giant armadillo,(Priodontesmaximus), the giant anteater (Myrmecophagatridactyla), giant otter (Pteronurabrasiliensis), marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus) and the hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), the largest species of parrot. A healthy jaguar population (Panthera onca), a species almost threatened with extinction, is also present.
The Pantanal Biosphere Reserve comprises the States of Mato Grosso, Matto Grosso do Sul and a small portion of Goiás State. It covers the headwaters of the rivers that make up the Pantanal, one of the world’s most extensive wetland complexes, internationally known for its large bird, mammal, reptile, fish, insect and amphibian populations.
The following national parks lie within the Pantanal Biosphere Reserve:
Chapada dos Guimarães National Park is located in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil. It is a region of rugged terrain with dramatic cliffs and waterfalls, and contains the geographical center of the continent. It has an area of 32,630 ha (80,600 acres). The terrain of the park is characterized by large hills and red sandstone cliffs. Fauna include jaguar, pampas deer, howler monkey, tapir, giant anteater, giant armadillo, maned wolf, emu and seriema. Parrots, swifts and red macaws nest in the sandstone cliffs. The park is threatened by fire in the cold, dry and windy period of the year, often caused by human activities near or inside the park.
Serra da Bodoquena National Park is located in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. The park belongs to the cerrado biome. It covers an area of 77,022 ha (190,330 acres).
Emas National Park (also part of the Cerrado Protected Areas World Heritage site) is located between the states of Goiás and Mato Grosso do Sul in the Central-West Region of Brazil. It covers 1,320 sq km (510 sq mi) of treeless cerrado savannah.
Pantanal Matogrossense National Park is located in the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. It has an area of 135,606 ha (335,090 acres) and belongs to the Pantanal biome.
The Pantanal Biosphere Reserve encompasses both highlands and lowlands, from the large lakes on the border with Bolivia, flood plains, grasslands and highland cerrado in the 'Chapada dos Guimarães', 'Serra de Santa Bárbara' and 'Urucum' mountains, with summits of 1,000 m (3,280 ft) above sea level.
Other notable ecosystems within the Pantanal Biosphere Reserve are the seasonally flooded cerrado, highland grasslands, seasonally flooded grasslands, cerradão (forest-like cerrado), deciduous forests, gallery forests, Buriti palm stands, Amazon like-forest, Atlantic Forest influenced forest, Chaco and Chaco Forest.
There is a strong link between traditional rural human populations and the environment. More than 2,800,000 inhabitants (2001) live in the biosphere reserve. Extensive cattle grazing has been practiced widely over most of the lowlands and has been the major economic activity since European colonization began.