Cerrado is the term for the savanna-like ecosystem which covers a large portion of Brazil's central-eastern interior. The cerrado biome is nearly endemic to Brazil, and it covers approximately 22% of Brazil's surface area (roughly 2 million square kilometres), in addition to small areas of Bolivia and Paraguay. This region is home to some 10,000 plant species, including 4,400 of which are endemic to the biome; additionally it hosts 195 mammal species, 800 fishes, 410 reptiles and amphibians (15% of which are endemic), and more than 600 species of birds. Like any major biome, the cerrado encompasses a wide gradient of habitats, from (increasingly rare) vast open tall-grass savannas to hardy, dense cerradãoforests.
Given its remarkable rates of endemism, the cerrado should be considered a conservation priority under any criteria. It is unfortunately under serious threat in Brazil, with well over a third of its natural cover in the country already converted to agricultural uses, principally cash crops such as soybeans, corn, cotton, sugarcane, and others. The agricultural frontier in Brazil pushes further and further into the cerrado each year, and key reserves in the biome are becoming increasingly isolated and fragmented (the famous Emas National Park is a prime example of isolation), exacerbating damage from annual wildfires. The biome's unassuming, often scrubland-like appearance makes it difficult for the layperson to appreciate its importance, and has kept it from the public eye while the conversation on conservation in Brazil focuses on the Amazon and the Atlantic rainforest.
Thankfully the cerrado still hangs on in a few spectacular reserves in the Serra da Canastra, Emas National Park, and the Chapada dos Veadeiros, where the vast savannas span across rolling landscapes, sprinkled liberally with high-rise termite mounds, and dotted intermittently with palm groves, rheas, and anteaters. Visiting these special places one gets an idea of what the country's interior must have once looked like.
Tours and destinations
Birding Mato Grosso is proud to offer tailor-made custom tours to the best cerrado reserves in Brazil. Outlined below is one of our favourite itineraries visiting the cerrado biome. Don't forget to explore the interactive map of birding sites in the cerrado at the bottom of this page to see where sites are located and to learn more about lesser known cerrado sites.
Treasures of Minas Gerais (10 days)
This itinerary focuses on three of the finest reserves in the south-eastern Brazil, for a rich and varied natural history experience as we enjoy a diverse birdlife with many endemic and threatened species, terrific mammal viewing opportunities, and some stunning landscapes as we travel through the historic state of Minas Gerais. We visit the Serra da Canastra, without a doubt one of the best preserved cerrado reserves in all of Brazil and home to the critically endangered Brazilian Merganser, in addition to many cerrado endemics including the Cock-tailed Tyrant (pictured left) and Brasilia Tapaculo. Canastra offers excellent chances to see Giant Anteater and Maned Wolf roaming across the vast grasslands. In the Serra do Cipó area, we see another face of the cerrado as we bird windswept rocky highlands searching for Espinhaço endemics such as Hyacinth Visorbearer, Cipó Canastero and Cipó Cinclodes. We finish the tour with a visit to Caraça, a 17th century monastery situated in a beautiful and preserved setting cloaked in montane Atlantic forest and overlooked by rocky peaks. Caraça is famous for the Maned Wolves which are found here, but it is also a great birding locale and we'll search for endemics such as Serra Antwren, Rock Tapaculo, and Swallow-tailed Cotinga during our stay.
Emas National Park
(3 - 4 days suggested)
Emas National Park is perhaps the best preserved of Brazil's cerrado reserves, making it an indispensable destination for birders and mammal watchers alike. Ema is the local name for the Greater Rhea, Brazil's largest bird and a species easily encountered in and around the park in family groups. Emas NP was the site of the re-discovery of the endemic Cone-billed Tanager in 2003, and is the best site in Brazil for the rare White-winged Nightjar, in addition to a host of other cerrado endemics. Mammals also abound here, and a visit of 3 or 4 days provides a good chance for Giant Anteater, Brazilian Tapir, Maned Wolf and Pampas Deer, along with rarer possibilities such as Giant Armadillo, Puma, and Pampas Cat. Dedicated mammals watchers might want to combine a visit to Emas NP with ranches in the southern Pantanal where Ocelot is practically guaranteed.