The Stunning Wildlife of the Pantanal, the World’s Largest Wetlands

Discover the Pantanal

credit: Flickr user dany13

February 2 is World Wetlands Day, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands. According to UNESCO, an estimated 64 percent of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since the year 1900. In honor of this day, we’re turning our gaze towards Pantanal, the world’s largest wetlands—and one that’s seriously threatened. In the following photos, discover a sample of the rich biodiversity of the Pantanal, which covers over 140,000 square kilometers and touches Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. While large amounts of the area are protected or otherwise untouched, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the area is threatened by unsustainable cattle ranching, illegal mining and other construction.

Yacare caiman

credit: Nori Almeida

Yacare caiman (Caiman yacare) are found throughout central South America, but there are estimated to be some 10 million individuals living in the Pantanal. These crocodilians are fairly small compared to similar species, with adult males typically reaching about two meters in length.

Hyacinth macaw

credit: Geoff Gallice

Swamps may get a bad reputation, but they are an important form of carbon sink and serve to naturally clean water. They are home to some iconic and amazing species. Hyacinth macaws (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) are known for their intense blue plumes and yellow face markings. These birds have not only been threatened by habitat loss, but also by the illegal pet trade. The species is listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Giant anteater

credit: Flickr user dany13

Giant anteaters require a large range, and are found in wet tropical forests, as well as drier forests or grasslands. They can reach a length of up to seven feet. They also have extraordinarily long tongues, which they can move in and out of their mouths about three times per second to capture ants and other insects or larvae. Giant anteaters are also considered “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Yellow-billed cardinal

credit: Geoff Gallice

Despite its name and bright red head, this bird is actually not very closely related to birds that belong to the cardinal family Cardinalidea. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Yellow-billed cardinal is a tanager-finch.


credit: Geoff Gallice

Wetlands are particularly important for the capybara, which lives along the sides of rivers and in marshes. Capybaras are the largest rodents in the world, and can weigh up to 140 pounds. They have slightly webbed feet and live in communities. Happily, the adorable capybara is not considered a threatened species.

Marsh deer

credit: Geiser Trivelato

These small, wetlands-loving deer were once found throughout all the tropical regions of South America, but today live in fragmented populations in Brazil, Paraguay, eastern Bolivia and southeastern Peru. Marsh deer are considered “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They graze upon grasses, reeds and aquatic plants. They live along or in small groups of two or three.


credit: Bart van Dorp

The Pantanal is home to the highest density of jaguars in the world. These wild cats are considered near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They’re threatened by a shortage of prey, hunting by humans for their skins, and habitat destruction. This World Wetlands Day, there’s good news for the jaguars of the Pantanal. The Rainforest Trust in partnership with the non-profit Panthera announced a $1 million donation towards purchasing a 25,000-acre ranch in Brazil. The land will be used to create a protected area, which is part of the Million Acre Jaguar Initiative, which aims to protect one million acres of rainforest in 2015. Such protections not only benefit big cats like the jaguar, but also all the diverse plants and animals of the Pantanal.