Spanning more than 70,000 square miles of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Pantanal region is the largest and among the most pristine and biologically diverse wetlands in the world. Yet an environment that supports jaguars, caimans and thousands of other species also presents an irresistible draw to humans, who rely on the region for fresh water, farming, ranching and, increasingly, tourism. All of which makes the Pantanal not just a natural wonder but a test case for one of the most pressing questions of our age: Can preservation exist alongside economic development?
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that close to half of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900.footnote1 In the Pantanal, which remains comparatively unspoiled, environmental scientists, government officials, local communities and developers are seeking answers through collaboration.
Thanks to innovative thinking, along with financial support from Bank of America and other partners, initiatives such as the Oncafari Project and SOS Pantanal are helping preserve the wetlands for everyone’s benefit. “These two projects are combining conservation and tourism in a way that supports sustainable growth for the wider region,” says Thiago Fernandes, Bank of America’s head of ESG for Latin America.
Big cats, and a bigger challenge
The Oncafari Project, which received $200,000 from Bank of America, is focused on preserving the habitat for jaguars, the largest felines in the Americas and the third largest in the world (after lions and tigers). Jaguars and their survival play an important role in this region’s ecosystem, helping to maintain the biodiversity of the Pantanal. They are a chief attraction for visitors to the region, but their long-term survival is by no means assured. The jaguar population has been depleted by gradual human encroachment and nearly a century of hunting by farmers who feel that jaguars adversely impact their livelihoods.