February 17, 2009

World’s Largest Wetland Faces Deforestation Threat

Increasing economic demands are causing many farms and industries to close in on the world's largest wetland.

Located in Brazil, the Pantanal region is larger than England and home to various ecosystems and a wide variety of animals "“ from jaguars and otters to endangered Hyacinth Macaws.

"It's a type of Noah's Ark but it risks running aground," biologist and tour guide Elder Brandao de Oliveira told Reuters.

In addition to being home to the greatest concentration of wildlife in the Americas, the Pantanal has the greatest concentration of fauna in the Americas, according to The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental advocacy group.

But the region is in danger due to increased stress caused by Brazil's beef, iron and soy exports.

The Pantanal has become the victim of deforestation - experts estimate that about 20 percent of vegetation native to the region has disappeared.

"True, deforestation is a problem but 50 years ago when it began nobody thought of these things," Ademar Silva, head of the local association of farmers and cattle ranchers, told Reuters. "The government needs not only to punish bad behavior but promote new technology with financial incentives.

As a result, some species, such as the long-snouted giant anteater, the giant armadillo and maned wolf face certain danger, said conservationists.

"I hadn't heard about it before, it's a bird-lovers' paradise," said Alkis Ieromonachou, a Cypriot tourist. The region is home to 650 bird species, the largest of which has a wingspan of almost 3 yards.

In the past 5 years, Brazil's beef exports have more than tripled to $5 billion in 2008. In many cases, pastures take the place of forests.

Brazil's exports have grown sixfold to $3.14 billion since 2003. Around 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of native forest are lost annually in Mato Grosso do Sul state, home to much of the Pantanal, Reuters said, citing a study from the Getulio Vargas Foundation, or FGV.

"We're using our natural resources fast and inefficiently," said environmental economist Andre Carvalho at FGV.

63 percent of the forest in elevated regions of the Pantanal and 17 percent in lowland regions have been destroyed, according to Conservation International.

A 1965 federal law states that ranchers can clear up to 80 percent of forest on their land.

"Now is the time for stricter laws, environmental education and corporate citizenship," said Ricardo Melo, environmental public prosecutor in Corumba.

Deforestation will likely result in major changes to the local ecosystem.

"Rivers will change course, lakes appear or disappear -- the size and shape of the Pantanal will change," said Sandro Menezes, manager of Conservation International's Pantanal project.

"It's very probable that local flora and fauna will become extinct."


Image Caption: Pantanal de Mato Grosso. Courtesy Wikipedia


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