"Welcome to Paradise!" A pair of binoculars dangling from his neck, ornithologist Reggie Donatelli stands on the lawn of the Fazenda Rio Negro and invites me to survey the surroundings. Fifty feet away, nestled in a palm tree, is pair of Hyacinth Macaws, their plumage a gorgeous shade of purplish blue. A threatened species, this bird is found primarily in the region known as the Pantanal. Nearby, looking very much like its cousins the ostrich and the emu, a Greater Rhea pecks at the lawn, searching for grubs. Also within sight are a Jabiru stork, a Campos flicker, Buff-necked Ibises, Herons, Egrets and flocks of parrots - just a few of the over 300 species of birds which have been observed here. For bird-lovers, this place might well be paradise.
The Fazenda (ranch) is located on the banks of the Rio Negro, teeming with fish, caimans (alligators), and rarely seen creatures like the Giant River Otter. The forests and savannas which surround this land are home to jaguars, peccaries (boar-like ungulates), anteaters, capybaras (picture a dog-sized guinea pig!) monkeys, foxes, and countless reptiles, amphibians and insects. Included in the latter category is the mosquito, which in the early evenings does its best to make us feel like a part of the local food chain. "Us" is an Earthwatch <link to www.earthwatch.org> team, here to assist Professor Donatelli as he monitors the avian component of the mosaic of life which comprises the Pantanal.
Located south of the Amazon basin and east of the Andes, the Pantanal is said to be the largest wetland in the world - an enormous river basin roughly the size of England (about 90,000 square miles), within the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. It is the flood plain for the Paraguay River and its tributaries.
Although facing many threats and challenges from human occupation, the Pantanal (translated as "swamp" or "marsh") is considered to be one of the last relatively pristine areas on earth, rich in biodiversity. A healthy Pantanal is essential to maintaining regional water quality. This enormous wetlands serves as a natural filter, a "kidney" to the super-organism of the ecosystem. It also acts like an organic sponge to buffer and control the effects of flooding.
The Pantanal is threatened by agribusiness, by pollution, and by efforts to dam, dredge and straighten its rivers. Alarmed by the deterioration of Florida's everglades, a region smaller in scale, but similar in its make-up to the Pantanal, the governments of Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay have thus far kept most large scale development in check. A number of government and non-governmental organizations have organized efforts to protect the Pantanal, in part through promoting ecotourism and cattle ranching which, historically, is thought to have a relatively light footprint on the grasslands of the region.
The Pousada Ararauna acts as base for scientists and research teams who are studying the region and its varied fauna. The accommodations are pleasant and comfortable, the food outstanding, and the wildlife viewing remarkable. They offer observatory trails, photographic safaris, and boat, canoe and horseback tours. Earthwatch also brings in volunteers to work on projects studying jaguars, peccaries, fruit-eating creatures, and otters. For more information go to www.pousadaararauna.com.br or www.earthwatch.org
There are two seasons hereabouts - wet and dry, and our Earthwatch team is here in January, the heart of the rainy season, when much of the region is underwater. Some of the research is done by boat, some on horseback, on foot and on four-wheel drive vehicles, which manage to get stuck in the mud on a semi-regular basis. Under Reggie Donatelli's watchful eye, we learn how to take a daily census of birds, set mist nets (made of fine mesh) to catch birds, record their vital statistics, band and release them. Each band has a unique number which can be used to trace the bird's migratory patterns if it happens to be caught again. On occasion, recordings are used to attract different species of birds to the nets. My role here is to help make recordings and to document some of the myriad sounds of the Pantanal. In so doing, the hope is that we'll bring this extraordinary region to the attention of tourists and travelers. If you are looking for one of the few places on earth that remain relatively untouched by the hand of man, this is a destination you may want to seriously consider. The panoply of wildlife here is diverse enough to keep the most jaded observer occupied, and you can do your observing without sacrificing any creature comforts. Responsible ecotourism is one of the key elements in the plan to preserve and protect the Pantanal - an earthly paradise where humans and animals still have the chance to coexist.
Interview with Reggie Donatelli (4:20)
For a transcript, click here
Dr. Reginaldo Donatelli has a Ph.D. in Ornithology (1991) and a Master’s degree in Zoology (1987) from Universidade de São Paulo, SP, Brazil. He has been Professor of Zoology (Vertebrates) at the Universidade Estadual Paulista, UNESP, Bauru campus since 1991. Dr. Donatelli’s field experience includes: study of migratory birds in the Lagoa do Peixe, and in the Taim’s reserve, Rio Grande do Sul (bird banding); survey of birds in northern Pantanal (Poconé region); project developed in the Caratinga’s World Wildlife Foundation reserve and Vale do Rio Doce’s reserve, both in Minas Gerais; studies on Amazonian birds in Belém do Pará; bird-banding in southwestern SP, Assis region for three years (doves’ nesting in sugar-cane); and a survey of birds in many tropical forest remnants in São Paulo. He is currently writing a field guide of birds from Bauru and region (central-western part of the Estate of São Paulo) and is conducting studies on Birds and Dynamic Habitat Mosaics in the Pantanal, Brazil.
Interview with Alexine Keuroghlian (4:38)
For a transcript, click here
Dr. Alexine Keuroghlian is a researcher and teacher at the University for the Development of the State and region of the Pantanal (UNIDERP). She participated in the primate project with the World Wildlife Fund project in the Amazon – now called the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragment Project.
Alexine's first research project was studying endangered black lion tamarins in the Amazon basin. However, after her brief work with primates, she began researching peccaries, first in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, and now in the Pantanal. Now Alexine has been studying the role of peccaries as a landscape species in fragments of the Atlantic forest, and in the Pantanal.
Keuroghlian’s education includes a Master's in Wildlife Management from West Virginia and a Ph.D. in the Program of Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology at the University of Nevada at Reno.
Interview with Reinaldo Lourival (3:32)
For a transcript, click here
Biologist Leandro Silveira on the Pantanal Jaguar (2:47)
For a transcript click here
|Video: Featured on the video, in order of appearance are -- a Campos (or Field) Flicker, a Rufescent Tiger Heron, a boat trip up the Rio Negro, cowboy musicians Celso do Silva and Arnaldo Silverio - who diligently practice every night at the Fazenda, an Egret in flight from its nesting site along the river, some feral pigs who visit the Fazenda in the evenings, ants, a caiman, a Tri-colored Hog-Nose Snake, an immature Yellow-billed Cardinal with an injured wing being examined, a Greater Rhea, sunset from the Fazenda. (2:12)|
For information on joining an Earthwatch Expedition in the Pantanal go to the Expedition signup page at www.earthwatch.org.
Thanks to Reggie Donatelli, for his patience, generosity and good humor, Blue Magruder and Heather Pruiksma at Earthwatch, photographers "Uncle Jeff" Himmelstein and Ellen McKnight, and all the other members of the team (Lee, Warren and Ron) who had to put up with the pesky demands of a sound recordist ("Quiet on the boat, please!"), research scientists Don Eaton, Alexine Keurohghlian and Marion Kallerhoff, Rick Prum and family, musicians Celso do Silva and Arnaldo Silverio, and intrepid guide Picolay.
Video and all sounds ©2007 Jim Metzner. All Rights Reserved. Portions of this feature used with kind permission from NationalGeographic.com Sampling or any commercial use without permission is strictly prohibited.