January 12, 2006

World’s largest wetland under threat in Brazil

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - The world's largest wetland,
Brazil's Pantanal, is being destroyed by increased farming,
ranching and mining, according to a report by the environmental
watchdog Conservation International.

The threat mirrors the more publicized situation in the
Amazon, where ranchers and loggers have cleared vast areas of
the rain forest at an alarming rate.

The Pantanal, an area of low-lying forests, marshes, and
dry plains, covers about 77,230 square miles in the western
Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul near the
borders with Bolivia and Paraguay.

It is home to a huge variety of wildlife, including
jaguars, anteaters, tapirs and crocodiles, and it floods in the
rainy season.

The Conservation International report said deforestation
had destroyed 17 percent of the natural vegetation of the
Pantanal and if it continued unchecked, all the original forest
would disappear within 45 years.

Scientists used satellite images to compare the deforested
areas with those that still had natural vegetation.

"They concluded that agriculture, cattle grazing and coal
mining are the major threats to the Paraguay River Basin, a
significant hydrographical drainage of the South American
continent," it said.

Overall in the Paraguay River Basin, which includes the
Pantanal, ranching and agriculture has destroyed almost 45
percent of the original vegetation.

The destruction had put wildlife and the ecological system
at risk.

"These locations contribute to wildlife populations and
serve as refuges for the fauna during unfavorable seasons,
sheltering species that migrate to avoid floods and climate
extremes," said Sandro Menezes, manager of Conservation's
Pantanal program.

It mentioned the hyacinth macaw, which is threatened with
extinction because the manduvi tree where it shelters and
breeds is being wiped out.

Calling the Pantanal situation critical, the report urged
action at local, state and government levels to stop the
destruction and to restore damaged areas.