The Pantanal is a mosaic of lagoons, wetlands and rivers and constitutes the flood plain for the Upper Paraguay River Watershed. It is one of the largest and best preserved wetlands in the world, with an extension of 158,000 km2, covering parts of Brazil (70%), Bolivia (20%) and Paraguay (10%).
The Pantanal in Bolivia has an extension of 32,000 km2 and is located in the eastern portion of the Department of Santa Cruz. It covers part of the jurisdiction of four municipalities: San Matías (Ángel Sandoval province), El Carmen Rivero Torres, Puerto Suárez and Puerto Quijarro (Germán Busch province), where approximately 46,000 inhabitants live working primarily in trade, cattle ranching, industry transport services and small scale agriculture. The extraction of ore deposits from the Mutún mine is currently in the process of being consolidated and is expected to produce considerable social, economic and environmental changes in this important ecoregion.
The Pantanal is characterized by its immense richness in terms of the diversity of flora and fauna, with species from the Amazon, Chiquitano Forest, Chaco and Cerrado being found in the region. At least 120 species of mammals have been registered, as well as 650 species of birds, 90 reptiles, 40 amphibians, 260 fish, 1030 butterflies and more than 1650 species of vascular plants. Many of these species are highly threatened, such as the marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus), hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), and giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), among others.
In addition to this immense richness in plants and animals, the Pantanal also provides main environmental services, such as:
- Maintenance and purification of water sources, necessary for humans, animals, farming, and river transport.
- Protection and maintenance of soil fertility, necessary for agriculture.
- Protection and conservation of plants and wildlife, necessary for human consumption.
- Biological control to avoid plagues from destroying crops.
- Regulation of the hydro-biological processes to avoid droughts and floods.
- Regulation of climate, avoiding abrupt changes in temperatures, rain and wind.
- Purification of air.
The richness of this wetland, its diversity in terms of fauna and the economic production it supports, in 2001 led the Bolivian government, with support from WWF, to designate the entire surface area of the Pantanal in Bolivia as a Ramsar site, recognizing it as a wetland of international importance.
The Paraguay River Watershed is one of the most important water systems for the continent and the world, due to the economic, social and environmental benefits it provides the population. It is located in east central South America, covering parts of Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. Following its course towards the south and stretching 600,000 km2, it joins the Paraná Watershed, forming a single wetland system (Paraguay-Paraná), the largest wetland on Earth.
The Upper Paraguay River Watershed forms a mountainous region or rocky elevations (Chiquitania in Bolivia and Planalto in Brazil), constituting the headwaters of the watershed, where the tributaries and nascent of the Paraguay River are found, which also support the Pantanal. The Pantanal is located in the center of the Upper Paraguay River Watershed and forms the watershed’s sedimentation plain.
The functioning of the Upper Paraguay River Watershed and, consequently, the Paraguay-Paraná wetland system, is regulated by one of the largest floodplains on Earth: the Great Pantanal.
The Upper Paraguay River Watershed in Bolivia includes nine municipalities: Charagua, El Carmen Rivero Torres, Puerto Quijarro, Puerto Suárez, Roboré, San Ignacio, San José, San Matías and San Rafael, where approximate 88,000 people live, according to the 1992 census’ estimations.