Jaú National Park

Jaú National Park (1°40’-3°00’S and 61°26’- 64°00’W) is a World Heritage Site located within the Rio Negro watershed of the Amazonian central plain. It is the largest national park in the Amazon Basin, the second largest protected tropical forest and a region of great biodiversity. It protects the entire watershed of the Jaú River, one of the best examples of a blackwater ecosystem, where the water is colored by acidic decomposing organic matter, and a large area of undisturbed dry tropical forest. The park protects both the hydrological basin of the river, and many of the species associated with the system in an area large enough to contain major ecological and biological processes such as wind-blows, floods and natural burns, providing large-scale opportunities to study their effect on the biodiversity of natural ecosystems.

Geographical Location

Jaú National Park. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory News)
Jaú National Park is approximately 200 kilometers (km) north-west of Manaus, within the Rio Negro watershed of the Amazonian central plain. It extends 340 km west of the confluence of the Jaú and Negro rivers between 1°40’-3°00’S and 61°26’- 64°00’W. Its southern boundary is the right banks of the Jau and Carabinani rivers; its southwestern and western boundary is the divide defining the watershed of the Rio Jau; its northern boundary is the left banks of the Igarape Maruim, Paunini and Unini rivers back to the Rio Negro, the left bank of which forms the Park’s eastern boundary as far as the mouth of Rio Jau.

Date and History of Establishment

1980: Designated a National Park by Federal Decree No. 85,200;
1997: Management Plan published for 1997-2002;
2001: Part of the large designated Central Amazon Biosphere Reserve.

2,272,000 hectares (ha).

Land tenure

The Federal government owns 98.3% of the Park. This was vacant land transferred from Amazonas state, in the municipalities of Barcelos and Novo Airão. 1.7% (almost 39,000 ha) is comprised of 31 legally held properties which in 2001 are to be repossessed by the state by incorporation into the patrimony of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA); a further 1.5% of government land on the Unini River is settled by 183 families without ownership title (posseiros) which the government is seeking funds to repossess. The Park is administered by IBAMA assisted by the Vitória Amazônica Foundation (FVA).


0 – 200 meters (m).

Physical Features

The Park includes the whole 1,000,000 ha watershed of the 300 km-long Rio Jaú which has some 1500 sources and a total length of tributaries of about 5,700 km. The park extends to the Carabinani river to its south and to the Unini river and its tributary the Paunini on its north. It is geographically intermediate between the oldest and the most recent sedimentary formations of the Amazon Basin. Nearly 65% is part of the Palaeocene and Pleistocene Solimões Formation, a very extensive sedimentary deposit composed of table uplands which form barriers to the drainage. Other formations within the Park include the older Palaeocene Prosperança and Trombetas formations, which underlie 17% and 8% of the Park respectively. Here there are more flat-topped hills 150 to 200 m high with often deep sharply dissected V-shaped valleys. Quaternary sediments formed part of glacial period marine regressions which resulted in the carving of valleys later filled by sediments, the basis of the present drainage patterns.

The rivers of the Park are lined with beaches of white sand during the dry season and flooded forest during the wet season, There are secondary waterways of differing sizes: igarapés (streams), paranás (braided channels separated from a river by strips of unflooded land) and ria lakes, typical of large rivers in the Amazon region. The Park contains quite a large area of black-water drainage, its dark colour resulting from organic acids released by the decomposition of organic matter and the lack of terrestrial sediments. There is also a nine-tier waterfall on the Carabinani river, falling 800 m. Flooding is highest during June and July when lakes can flood between 5.7-10.5 m. Streams flood only up to 3 m and have less biomass but a greater diversity of species. pH levels are highest during the dry season in late fall and at 2.7 are near the limit for many aquatic organisms.


This is a humid tropical regimen where seasons are defined by the rainfall. This ranges annually from 1,750 millimeters (mm) between July and September to 2,500 mm between December and April. Seasonal temperature ranges can be less than diurnal. The annual average range is between 26ºC and 26.7ºC, increasing as rainfall and water levels fall, and decreasing when they are highest. The absolute maximum is 31.7ºC, the absolute minimum is 22ºC.


The tall dry forest cover of the Park is part of the continuous forest of the Amazon central plain. Its landscape is typical of the lower Rio Negro, characterized in a 1978 survey by Radam Brasil as: a) dense tropical forest, mainly on unflooded terra firme, generally very stratified, with a layer of large emergent trees and averaging 180 plant species per hectare; b) open tropical igapó seasonally flooded forest, associated with wide soil and climatic transitions. This is characterized by low trees with thin trunks, with many bromeliad and orchid epiphytes; it grows on sandy nutrient-poor soils and averages 108 plant species per hectare; and c) campinarana, a tall dry shrub-woodland mosaic restricted to the Rio Negro region which grows primarily in well drained uplands. The largest component of this is the arboreal Rio Negro caatinga. It is dominated by tall trees and epiphytes and lianas are very rare. Within each of these macrohabitats is a variety of vegetation types including chavascai swamp and grassland.

Dominant families at the Jaú river mouth are Palmae, Leguminosae and Chrysobalanaceae, and of the middle reaches, Leguminosae, Burseraceae, Palmae, Myristicaceae and Moraceae. Protium grandiflorum is a common dominant along the river. Palms exist in both canopy and understorey of all types of forest, the predominant palms in non-flooded areas being Mauritia miriti and M. carana.


Longhaired Spider Monkey, Brazil. (Source: Primate Info Net, National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin – Madison)
The Park protects an impressive range of fauna, with many species associated with blackwater river systems. There is high diversity with 120 species of mammals, including 20 species of rodents and marsupials, 470 birds, said to be approximately two-thirds of the birds recorded from the Central Amazon, 15 reptiles and 320 fishes which are about two-thirds of the fish species recorded in the Rio Negro watershed.

Mammal species considered locally threatened include longhaired spider monkey Ateles belzebuth (VU), woolly spider monkey Lagothrix lagothricha, blackheaded uakari monkey Cacajao melanocephalus, giant anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla (VU), giant armadillo Priodontes maximus, (EN), bush dog Speothos venaticus (VU), smalleared dog Atelocynus microtis, giant otter Pteronura brasiliensis (VU), longtailed otter Lutra longicauda, jaguar Panthera onca (VU), puma Felis concolor, ocelot F.pardalis, Amazonian manatee Trichechus inunguis (VU). Threatened reptiles are the terrestrial yellow-footed tortoise, Geochelone denticulata (VU), 10 freshwater turtles including P.sextuberculata (VU) and P.unifilis (VU), South American river turtle Podocnemis expansa and black caiman Melanosuchus niger (EN). Rio Jaú also has three other alligators: yellow caiman Caiman crocodilus, Palaeosuchus palpebrosus and P.trigonatus, which is locally found only in this river.

Bird species in the terra-firme forest number 247 of which 121 are restricted to it. Among these are the harpy eagle Harpia harpiya, whitefaced antcatcher Pithys albifrons and blackfaced antcreeper Myrmoborus myotherinus. The igapó forest has 194 species, 58 being restricted to it. And there are 38 aquatic species including the blackchinned antcreeper hypocnemoides melanopogon and festive and orangewinged amazons Amazona festiva and A.amazonica. Invertebrates include 87 families of insects, with 21 families each of the Coleoptera and Ledidoptera, and 8 species of shrimps.

Cultural Heritage

There are no indigenous inhabitants in the area today but a recent survey identified 17 archaeological sites at the mouth of the Rio Jau, with undated material suggesting that the area may have been part of a corridor between the Solimões and Negro rivers peopled by ethnic groups of both regions. Numerous stone carvings were found on the river’s edge. Detailed studies of these sites could help to explain the history of human occupation of the lower Rio Negro. The nearby city of Airão, founded near the end of the 17th century, is in the Park’s buffer zone and was the first Portuguese settlement on the river. Nowadays, the Instituto do Patrimonio Histórico Brasileiro is working on official preservation of the Airão ruins previously abandoned in the 1950s.

Local Human Population

No indigenous people live in the Park. The rural population of caboclos are descendents of European, mainly Portuguese, originally attracted by rubber collecting, and the indigenous people. 138 families live along the Unini river, 41 families on the Rio Jaú and 4 families on the Carabinani river. Most were born in the region or in the state, and still live in traditional style, on bitter manioc cultivation, hunting, fishing, gathering turtles and ornamental fish and the collection of timber, rubber, nuts, oils, resins and gum.

Visitor and Visitor Facilities

There is no road access to the Park beyond Novo Airão, 100 km downstream and it is only accessible by river, so rented boats are the usual means of access. The journey from Manaus to the Park entrance takes up to 18 hours, or 8 hours by speedboat. Visitors need prior authorization from the Park Director at IBAMA headquarters in Manaus. At the entrance, there is a recently-built visitors’ center, a houseboat for the park guards and housing for researchers and visitors. At present there are few registered tourist agencies arranging trips to the Park, but in 1998 there were 850 visitors, mostly foreigners, who concentrated on the Carabinani waterfalls and the extensive beaches of the Rio Negro. There is a guard post at the mouth of the Rio Jaú and one is planned for the mouth of the Rio Unini which is much visited by fishermen.

Scientific Research and Facilities

By agreement with IBAMA, the Vitôria Amazônica Foundation has carried out multidisciplinary research in the Park since 1992, inventorying the fauna and flora, soils and landscape. Ongoing research on the resident population is focused on analysis of land use and activities, large-scale trends in demography, subsistence and environmental impacts. FVA stores the data in a computerized database, as an information center about the Park. Geographic Information Systems are used to generate landscape maps, land-use maps and other images.

Conservation Value

Jaú National Park is one of the largest conserved areas in Brazil, and the second largest continuous area of protected tropical rainforest in the world. It protects the entire hydrological basin of the Rio Jau, between two of the greatest rivers of the Amazon basin, the Negro and Solimões, and with both Tertiary and Quaternary geological formations, it harbors a unique group of exceptional ecosystems. It is located primarily on terra-firme, and other forms of open tropical forest. Few conservation units in the Amazon region also protect such a large portion of the flora and fauna of blackwater river systems. It is planned to make it part of the vast projected Central Amazon Protected Areas World Heritage Site.

Conservation Management

Rio Negro, Brazil (Source: University of Washington)
The Park is one of the few conservation units in the Brazilian Amazon with a management plan that is both complete and being implemented. This was evolved between IBAMA, the Vitória Amazônica Foundation (FVA), local municipal governments, research institutions and members of the extraction and tourism industries following guidelines prepared by IBAMA. Nearly 60 expert researchers from 13 different institutions contributed. To integrate local residents with conservation initiatives within the Park there are periodic meetings with residents to disseminate planning decisions, provide training for environmental education professionals and research on the economic valuation of natural resources. In Novo Airão, one example is the Fibrarte Project, set up to stimulate the use of natural fibres such as aruma (Schynosiphon sp.) to produce high quality handicrafts. Action has been taken towards resolving remaining conflicts over land ownership titles. Since 1993 the main body supervising research, planning and management and education in the Park has been the Vitória Amazônica Foundation.

The management plan has three phases: I: protection, minimizing of impacts and integration with neighbors; II: research into and protection of biodiversity; III: specific activities. It describes programs for the regulation of the use of Park resources, (such as turtles and ornamental fish), survey, research and monitoring, public use, recreation and education about the natural processes of the area, public relations, encouragement of crafts, management training for local people, political integration local and regional, administration and maintenance, and the provision of sponsorship. A zoning plan defines four management zones: Primitive – of great natural value, minimum intervention and maximum protection; Extensive use – some human activity; Intensive use – already altered by man, and Especial use – the Park services core. Key indicators to be used to monitor the state of conservation will include the biological resources, the hydro-climatic cycle, critical habitats, human use and quality of life, park use and effectiveness of the management plan. Indicators for the effectiveness of monitoring are also in place.

The Brazilian Ministry of the Environment with IBAMA, the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and state environmental institutions, has launched a project called ‘Ecological Corridors for the Tropical Brazilian Forest’ (PPG7-PPR), part of the Pilot Program for the Protection of Brazilian Tropical Forests, to support conservation projects and help to regulate the use of natural resources. The four protected reserves form the core of the Central Amazon Corridor and, since 2001, are a part of UNESCO’s MAB Central Amazon Biosphere Reserve.

Management Constraints

Deforestation is currently the main threat in the Amazon region. Some 13% of the original rainforest has already been lost to inadequate government policies, inappropriate land use systems, unsustainable resource use activities and the ever-increasing economic pressure on the region’s resources of the last 30 years. Only 3.5% of the total area of 3.5 million square kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon is officially designated federal indirect-use protected areas. These include national parks, biological reserves and ecological stations within which people are not allowed to live. However, this law is unenforceable, and all protected areas in the Amazon region have people living in them.

The Park is in good condition, the grass fires, blow-downs and floods which do occur being part of the natural order of the forest. But there are around 250 families who fish in the Unini river quite intensively. The Park has also been invaded by people from the surrounding area and is in great need of better basic infrastructure. For instance, there are only three park rangers at the entrance, making it easily invaded by outsiders who remove fish and turtles which may affect future stocks. However, in the surrounding region no development projects such as hydroelectric dams, gas pipelines, power lines, highways, logging or mining exist or are foreseen.


The Park has a staff of four people: Head of Conservation and three rangers which is not yet adequate although 26 volunteer guards have received training. The rangers live with their families and are employed by a private company (Empresa de Segurança). FVA has a staff of 26 people, including two ecologists and three sociologist researchers, three IT experts, two educators, two technical staff responsible for alternative economic activities such as the Fibrarte Project, 11 people in administration and two in charge of the institutional development of the Foundation. The Institute for Ecological Research Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas offers training and research and three universities offer appropriate courses and sponsor research in the Park.


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