| ||From the beginnings of European colonization in the mid-eighteenth century, extensive cattle breeding has been the only economic activity in the territory of Pantanal. For many breeders, this activity made it possible to preserve the ecosystem of the planet’s largest wetland. Since the 1970s, the Pantanal has been home to 5 million head of cattle. Extensive breeding on vast 2,500- to 25,000-acre fazendas follows a natural cycle, alternating between the flooding and drying out of the marshes. Breeders move their animals to natural pastures based on the rise and recession of the water. On a fazenda, the number of animals is in proportion to the surfaces not flooded at the height of the rainy season. Yet cases of overgrazing, which are not uncommon, and the repeated use of fire to clear pastures or create new ones at the forest’s expense have impoverished the region’s biodiversity and altered the soil. Considered incompatible with breeding, jaguars have been systematically eliminated. Today, agriculture—sugarcane, soy, rice, corn—is taking over increasing tracts of land that are either deforested or drained. Particularly destructive and polluting mining activities such as gold-digging also contribute to the degradation of this ecosystem. Though it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000, the Pantanal and its biodiversity are now under threat. In the past hundred years, more than half the earth’s wetlands have vanished.
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