Most of the original ecosystems of the eastern highlands have been destroyed, including the once luxuriant hardwood forests that dominated the eastern seaboard and the formerly magnificent Paraná pine (Araucaria) forests that covered the southern plateaus. Monkeys, parrots, and other formerly common wildlife are now found only in zoos, private menageries, or small patches of forest that still support the original flora. Saltworks, marinas, and condominiums have replaced the former coastal waterways and swamps that once teemed with waterfowl and alligators.
The Brazilian savannas in the semiarid Northeast have no massive herds of wild animals like their African counterparts. Jaguars and ocelots once inhabited the forest edges, but they have been extensively hunted by ranchers and are now endangered. The plant life varies considerably from coarse bunchgrasses to thorny, gnarled woods known as caatinga, the name derived from an Indian term meaning “white forest”; most caatinga are stunted, widely spaced, and intermingled with cacti. Woodlands known as agreste are found in slightly more humid areas.
Most areas of agreste are located near the São Francisco River and on elevated slopes, where some remaining moisture in the air is wrung from the trade winds. Thorny trees in those regions may attain heights of up to 30 feet (9 metres) and form barriers with their interlocking branches that even leather-clad vaqueiros (“cowboys”) cannot penetrate. Artificial pastures and grain fields have largely replaced the native grasslands of Rio Grande do Sul.
The Pantanal’s vast sloughs and watercourses support an abundance of flora and fauna, including the giant pirarucu, a fish that is herded into enclosures like underwater cattle pens until needed for food. Aquatic birds include ibis, herons, ducks, and migratory geese. There are numerous lizards and snakes, including deadly fer-de-lance (jararacas) and rattlesnakes. Among the larger mammals are armadillos and anteaters, which prey on ants and termites, whose nests may stand more than 6 feet (2 metres) high. Rheas (the South American relative of the ostrich), roadrunners (siriemas), and a variety of game birds, notably quail and partridge, are ubiquitous to the Pantanal’s higher ground and to the savannas of central Brazil. "Brazil" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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