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Caiman Ecological Refuge is part of a 130,000-acre ‘Pantaneiro’ (cowboy) cattle ranch, offering accommodation, activities and tours in the heart of Brazil’s Pantanal region; one of the world’s most important wetlands. The first ecotourism operation in the Southern Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul, Caiman is named after one of the many species found on the refuge — the caiman crocodile — and is also home to jaguars, blue-fronted parrots, hyacinth macaws, giant anteaters and howler monkeys. Besides from being committed to wildlife conservation projects, Caiman is a pioneer in sustainable livestock ranching and sustainable land management.
Recognising the need for cattle ranchers to live in better harmony with the natural habitat, in 2004 10% of Caiman’s ranch was set aside and turned into the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Selected by scientists from the University of Sao Paulo, the conservation area is remarkably diverse, encompassing vast savannahs, hammock forests, and everything in between. By allowing visitors to experience this unique setting, Caiman uses ecotourism to fund conservation efforts, while also preserving traditional ranching methods.
Visitors to Caiman’s two luxury lodges have unrivaled wildlife viewing opportunities and first-hand experience of conservation efforts, including the Jaguar Safaris Project, aimed at tracking and habituating jaguar populations in the area. Besides from the economic benefits of ecotourism, Caiman is exploring new ways to offer sustainable livelihoods to local communities — possible opportunities include honey production, expansion of the Caiman organic vegetable garden and a sustainable plantation and harvesting scheme for native hardwoods.
Caiman Ecological Refuge joined The Long Run in 2011 and committed to a holistic balance of the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – as a means to contribute meaningfully to the biodiversity and the people of their local region.
The Pantanal, a vast wetland covering 210,000 km2 at the very heart of South America, is the world’s largest floodplain and is of enormous importance for biodiversity conservation. It is home to a wide range of mammals such as the jaguar, the Giant anteater, and the Howler Monkey as well as reptiles such as the Paraguayan Caiman – Caiman crocodile – after which the Lodge is named. It is, however, coming under growing threat from human activities.
In the face of these human pressures and the gradual decline of the Pantanal natural ecosystem, Caiman has adopted a unique sustainable land management model fusing a strong ecotourism product and the traditional “Pantaneiro” cattle ranching system. This multi-faceted approach highlights Caiman’s strong desire to play a leadership role in promoting the conservation and economy of the Pantanal through land management that builds on modern conservation approaches and initiatives, such as ecotourism, and the best of traditional land use practices, such as traditional cattle ranching. This model has been widely successful and has provided a strong example of conservation and development efforts throughout the Pantanal.
Another important conservation initiative is Caiman’s establishment in 2004 of a private nature – reserve – “RPPN Dona Aracy”, which at 5,600 hectares represents more than 10% of the total Caiman Ecological Refuge. The “RPPN Dona Aracy” is now a major focus of Caiman’s conservation efforts, and is an additional conservation initiative over and above the conservation effort in the wider Caiman Ecological Refuge. The RPPN preserves an exceptional variety of habitats and biodiversity and further demonstrates Caiman’s strong commitment to its conservation goals.
Due to its large size (53,000 hectares), Caiman chiefly regards its community as the employees and their families located within the Caiman Ecological Refuge, rather than more distant communities outside the property. Thus the community comprises the 120 permanent residents on site, including members of staff and their families for the lodge and the ranch; all of whom have access to a wide range of benefits such as high-quality free housing, health services and on-site schooling for their children.
The extensive knowledge of and experience in cattle ranching among Caiman’s internal community members represents an essential component for the sustainable management of the Pantanal environment and habitats, as well as for providing a solid foundation from which a successful tourism business can be operated. As much as Caiman’s focus is on this small internal population, its dedication and commitment to sustainable land use and economic development extend to a strong engagement with neighboring landowners in the wider Pantanal area and Mato Grosso do Sul region.
Caiman is strongly driven by the desire to improve the livelihoods of its internal and neighboring communities by providing them with access to income generating opportunities. By continuously enhancing the community’s wellbeing, Caiman believes it is doing its part to provide the next generation with an alternative to a life in São Paulo or another metropolis and enhancing the preservation of the Pantanal environment and way of life by encouraging the uptake of the more traditional professions.
Caiman is aware of the importance of the Pantanal culture both in the running of its ranch as well as in its conservation initiatives. It strongly encourages its employees to keep Pantanal culture and traditions alive by adopting them as a way of life rather than something from the past that requires preservation. Caiman has made great effort to support and promote Pantanal culture within its community including major events such as the “Annual Caiman Lasso Festival”, which is the largest most important cultural event for the Caiman community and one of the most famous in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, attracting more than 800 people including government officials from within the state to showcase and celebrate their culture for a duration of three days.
In addition, Caiman has a first-rate website on which a vast amount of information and details about its various cultural activities and products can be found. Its guests are not left behind and are given inimitable opportunities to experience this rich culture first hand. Caiman offers key activities geared toward intercultural exchange including the “Cowboy Day” and “Cattle Drive Traditional Lunch” through which guests can learn about handling cattle and horses, come in contact with “Pantaneiros”, practice lasso and become part of Tereré, a traditional mate tea-drinking ritual of cowboys.
Caiman’s ecotourism operation has been underway since 1985, and at present, it is delivering a high-end luxury ecotourism products based on two separate lodges – Cordilheira Lodge and the Baiazinha Lodge. Always seeking ways to provide a variety of products and appeal to different tastes, Caiman is developing a wide range of activities. Key amongst these is the development of a jaguar viewing tourism attraction based on Jaguar habituation to vehicles.
Caiman is also keen to investigate opportunities for developing other economic and land-use enterprises that are compatible with the destination’s overall sustainable Pantanal land management model. Possible opportunities include the development of a sustainable plantation and harvesting scheme for native hardwoods as well as the development of honey production and the expansion of Caiman’s organic vegetable garden to provide fresh produce for the ecotourism operation and Caiman’s community.