Jau National Park

Jau National Park (PNJ) was created in 1980. It is one of Brazil’s largest parks, occupying 2,272,000 hectares, an area equivalent to 1.42 percent of the area of the state of Amazonas. Three rivers define the boundaries of PNJ: the Carabinani River to the south, the Jau River in the central region of the park, and the Unini River to the north. It is the only national park in Brazil to protect the entire watershed of a ‘black water’ river. The name of the park derives from one of Brazil’s largest fishes, the Jau (Paulicea luetkeni).

The park is administered by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), and overlaps with the municipalities of Barcelos and Novo Airao. Jau National Park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in recognition of its great importance to biodiversity conservation for the planet.

Habitat Types in Jau National Park

The habitat in PNJ is composed of a mosaic of natural and anthropic vegetation types, which are integrated by a complex aquatic ecosystem. A number of different soil types are found in the PNJ region, supporting the variety of types of vegetation. Particularly important among these are the sandy soils, whose seasonal flooding supports campina and campinarana vegetation. In contrast, the soils of the dry-land forests are more clay-based.

The aquatic system of Jau National Park is composed of larger rivers and an infinite number of small ‘black water’ tributaries, or “igarapes”. The water level in these rivers and igarapes exhibits a great deal of variation over the course of the year. In some sites, the difference in water level between the dry and wet periods can be as great as 15 meters. The vegetation found on the banks of these rivers is called “igapo” forest, a type typical to the Rio Negro Basin. These forests survive long periods of flooding, which can last from six to eight months in a given year. The trees and bushes of the igapo forests exhibit special physiological adaptations, which enable them to survive this long period of submersion.

The vegetation that is not subjected to annual flooding is known as dry-land forest, and covers approximately 70 percent of the area of the park. This is the “typical tropical rainforest”, with trees that reach more than 40 meters in height. The greatest diversity of flora and fauna in the park is found in these areas of dry-land forest, and the plant diversity in this forest type can be as great as 200 species per hectare.

In areas with sandy soil, campina and campinarana vegetation occurs. In Portuguese, the word campinas refers to open, savannah-like vegetation, similar to the “cerrado” found in the south and centre of the country. The word campinaranas, in contrast, denotes low forests with maximum canopy heights of less than 20 metres. The plants and animals found in these types of vegetation are very different from those that inhabit other environments.

The small human population that inhabits the PNJ clears stretches of terra firme forest, in which to plant small farms close to their houses, and the secondary forest in re-growth is known as capoeiras,. After a few years of farming, the disturbed vegetation regenerates, creating a mosaic of capoeiras of varied ages.

Sandy beaches and rocky river banks appear when the water level is low (from September to January). These are rocky river outcrops associated with the rapids in all three of the rivers of the park, but the largest outcrops are found in the Carabinani River. Beaches occur along the length of the rivers, and some of the sandbanks are extremely extensive, such as Praia da Velha at the mouth of the Jau River.


The biodiversity of Jau National Park is one of the most thoroughly studied among the conservation areas of Amazonia, thanks to the work of researchers from a number of institutions co-ordinated by the Fundacao Vitoria Amazonica (FVA).

The PNJ’s biodiversity is distinctive in the Amazonian context, in that it is representative of the “black water” ecosystems of the Rio Negro Basin, which are typified by a high content of dissolved organic material. The park’s rich diversity of fauna and floral species is associated with the wide variety of habitat types in the region, where at least eight vegetation types are present. The igapo forests, campinas and campinaranas, for example, each exhibit characteristic flora and fauna with numerous species restricted solely to these environments.

The PNJ also harbours species under threat of extinction, including the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja), jaguar (Panthera onca) and the black uakari monkey (Cacajao melanocephalus). Due to the size of the park and the low human impact on its local ecosystems, the populations of this species are currently healthy. In the local context, the fact that it protects a significant portion of the region’s biodiversity, composed of rare and extinction-threatened species, demonstrates the PNJ’s importance in the conservation of Amazonia’s biodiversity.

The Residents of the Jau National Park

The PNJ is inhabited by riverside populations referred to in Portuguese as “caboclos”, a term which denotes mixed indigenous and Portuguese origins. The residents typically live in small communities of a maximum size of 15 families. As a general rule, each community has a school where the youngest children in each family learn to read and write. The residents make their living from the production of manioc flour and the extraction of certain natural resources, such as, for example, the vine known as cipotitica, which is used in the production of brooms, furniture and baskets.

In total, 920 individuals inhabit the PNJ, representing 183 households. Of the current residents of the PNJ, 645 were born in the park, 252 are originally from other areas of the state of Amazonas, and the remaining 23 are originally from other parts of the Northern and North-eastern regions of Brazil. The population’s geographic distribution within the park is determined by the availability of resources, the place where the family’s ancestors first chose to establish their home, and the distance to the houses of relatives, friends, and/or communities with connections to one or more families. On the Unini and Paunini rivers, at the northern border of the park, the population concentration is greater than that of the Jau and Carabinani rivers.

Forms of Social Organization

The social structures present within the populations of the PNJ are the result of a synthesis of socio-cultural identities, and of a variety of strategies for collective survival. One of these alternatives is the formation of communities, which began to appear at the end of the 1980s. In many cases, household groups began to organize themselves in common areas due to the presence of a school – considered by the residents of the park to be the most relevant cause for community formation. There exists, therefore, a strong relationship between the schools, social organization and community life. In the entirety of the park there are eight schools, four of which are located on the Rio Unini, two of which are located on the Rio Paunini, and the remaining two of which are located on the Rio Jau. The local governments of Novo Airao and Barcelos are the entities responsible for the educational policies developed in the PNJ.

There are also two health centres. However, the majority of illnesses are treated by self-medication and medicinal plants from the local forests. Government action in this field has been limited to sporadic visits of the National Health Foundation (FUNASA) to carry out actions such as fumigation of local houses and diagnosis and treatment of cases of malaria.

The Question of Land Occupancy in the Jau National Park

National Parks are conservation areas designed to provide ‘whole’ protection to an ecosystem, and consequently the existence of human populations within their boundaries is prohibited. According to the current environmental legislation, all of the inhabitants of the PNJ are entitled to government-assisted relocation and remuneration for their stewardship. By law, the actions to fulfil these rights should be facilitated by the appropriate government organization – in this case, IBAMA. At the present moment, however, the resources necessary to relocate and compensate the inhabitants of the park are not available. The FVA and IBAMA are establishing, in agreement with the residents, norms and activities that reconcile human presence with the conservation of biodiversity within the park.

Management Plan for the Jau National Park

A conservation area’s management plan is the document which establishes the physical zoning of the area, and the basic planning and use directives for each zone. In spite of the importance of such a document, few management plans exist for protected areas in Amazonia. Jau National Park was the first conservation area in the entire Rio Negro Basin to have a completed management plan. A few points make the Jau National Park’s management plan to stand out as being innovative and of great technical quality. Firstly, it was the first management plan elaborated in Brazil for a conservation unit of such vast dimensions. The FVA, recognizing the limitations that the size of the park imposed, initiated its planning on a regional scale, enabled by an efficient geo-processing system. Furthermore, the FVA recurred to a number of methodological options, which had rarely been used in the construction of Brazilian management plans, such as participatory mapping of natural resource use by area residents. The quantity and quality of scientific information generated in the process of writing the management plan for the PNJ makes it stand out as one of the best plans to have been elaborated for protected areas in Amazonia.