What is the Cerrado?
Cerrado is the word used in Brazil to define the vegetation that covers the central part of the South-American continent, most of which is part of the territory of Brazil. This is the ecosystem equivalent to the African Savanna, but don’t be fooled by the analogy. The Cerrado looks in many places more like a short forest, than a savanna. As you can see in this picture below. That makes it a great area for trekking.
The biological diversity of this ecosystem is staggering. The Environmental Ministry of Brazil reports that 11,627 species of native plants have been catalogued for this ecosystem. A small trek in Chapada dos Veaderiors paints that picture impeccably.
This plant diversity supports a great variety of species of fauna such as: 837 species of birds, 199 mammals, and around 320 species of amphibian and reptiles. It is thought that as much as 13% of the tropical butterflies and 35% of bee species find their home in the this lush savanna.
But the star of the animals are the fish, with over 1200 species reported to live in the numerous rivers and streams that cross the Cerrado lands. And as such, swimming in crystal clear rivers and snorkelling with fish are big tourism attractions in Cerrado zones.
The huge biodiversity and the property to protect water and soil are what make the Cerrado so important. Not only for nature conservation reasons but for economic reasons too. Many of its plants are used for medicine and others are used for its properties in the cosmetic industry. And let’s not forget that many of the fruits you eat in Brazil originate from Cerrado. But not only in Brazil; the pineapple and the Cashew Nut, that are commercialised all over the world, are native to this ecosystem.
Despite its economic importance, the Cerrado is under huge threat due to conversion to agricultural land. As the area is naturally flat, enjoys warm temperatures and great water availability, it is ideal for cereal production, sugar cane in the past and more recently soya beans to support the growing cattle industry and for exports. Soya plantations have taken the Cerrado by storm and many areas that used to be covered in gorgeous Cerrado vegetation are today reduced to a huge sea of soya that has destroyed and fragmented the habitat of all natural species. Such as this tapir bellow, crossing the field to get to the forested area.