Explore the Wild Side of Brazil’s Rainforests and Tropical Wetlands

In Brazil’s rainforests and wetlands, the all-powerful force of water brings both life and death in equal turns. The misty rainforests of Brazil, from the coastal Mata Atlântica to the inland Amazon, rely on constant rain to recharge their thriving ecosystems. The grassy Pantanal to the south receives annual spring floods, which dramatically transform grassland to wetland, exchanging one set of challenges for another with each rainy season.

Photo of a spotted jaguar.
A jaguar prowls through the underbrush. Photograph by National Geographic Channels.

The Mata Atlântica, or Atlantic Rainforest in Portuguese, stretches for thousands of miles along the Brazilian coastline. This rainforest, which once rivaled the Amazon in size, is now often called the “Fragile Forest” because of its vulnerability: as the coast continues to be developed, the forest and its inhabitants are increasingly at risk.

Only an estimated seven percent of the Mata Atlântica rainforest’s original expanse still stands. The remaining intact rainforest is home to some of the world’s most unique animals, such as the tree-dwelling muriqui monkey; the long-nosed, raccoon-like coati; the world’s largest rodent, the capybara; the river-dwelling giant otter; the alligator-like Jacaré caiman; the sloth, with its famously slow metabolism and sleepy movements; the long-necked mata-mata turtle; and of course, the king of this jungle: the jaguar.

Photo of a harpy eagle in profile, Amazon rainforest bird of prey.
The Amazon’s harpy eagle is the world’s largest bird of prey. Photograph by Terra Mater Factual Studios /Light&Shadow
/Philipp Klein.

The Amazon rainforest contains all these species and more: a marvel of biodiversity, it is home to one in ten of the world’s animal species. One of these, the formidable harpy eagle, is the world’s largest bird of prey with a wingspan reaching six-and-a-half feet. Another, the brilliant orange cock-of-the-rock, is one of the rainforest’s biggest personalities, with the males putting on an ostentatious show for female admirers each mating season.

The flora of Brazil’s rainforests are just as striking and diverse as their fauna. Many plant species have developed toxic compounds to discourage animal grazing, always seeking a competitive edge in the never-ending battle for survival.

Lesser-known than the Amazon to the north, the Pantanal of southern Brazil is the world’s largest freshwater wetland system, a seasonally-flooded grassland ten times larger than the Florida Everglades. 68,000 square miles in size, the grassland swells with water during the summertime rainy season, becoming a marsh with the annual flooding of the Paraguay River’s estuaries.

The rainforests of the Amazon and Mata Atlântica as well as the Pantanal wetlands host nearly one thousand different species of birds and two thousand species of butterflies, which flourish in both dry and wet seasons as they swoop over forest floor, grasslands, marshes, and rivers alike. The other animals, left on the ground below, must contend with an ever-changing landscape.

Explore three of Brazil’s most extraordinary landscapes this Sunday, June 21st: catch Brazil: Shadow of the Eagle at 8/9c; Brazil: The Jaguar’s Lair at 9/10c; and Brazil: Jewels of the Jungle at 10/11c, only on Nat Geo WILD!