South America facts

Find out some surprising facts about the natural richness of South America, and the good and the bad news about the conservation of the region’s unique biodiversity.

Did you know?
  • Six of the 17 so-called 'mega-diverse' countries are found in South America: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela.
  • The Amazon Basin, stretching over Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, contains the world’s largest tropical rainforest, and is home to more than 30 million people.
  • Brazil has 225 groups of indigenous peoples, 170 of which live in the Amazon.
  • South America has nearly 26% of the world’s renewable sources of fresh water.
  • The Amazon, the Parana-Plata and the Orinoco rivers together carry more than 30% of the world’s renewable freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • South America contains more than 40% of the world’s plant and animal species, in an area smaller than 15% of the Earth’s land surface.  
  • South America has more than 45% of the world’s tropical forests, including the largest continuous area of tropical forest in the world – the Amazon Rainforest.
  • Argentina’s Patagonia has one of the highest wind energy potential on Earth. 
  • The Gran Chaco - divided among eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, northern Argentina and parts of the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul - is one of South America’s last agricultural frontiers, or the last expanse of unexplored wilderness.
  • South America is home to the world's highest waterfall: Angel Falls in Venezuela; the largest river (by volume of water): the Amazon River; the longest mountain range: the Andes; and the driest place on Earth: the Atacama Desert.


The bad news
  • Most of the losses in the Earth’s forests are taking place in developing countries, in particular in South America.
  • Up to 40 per cent of the Amazonian rainforest will be lost if the increase of the average temperature on Earth is limited to 2C, which most climatologists regard as the most that can be expected by 2050.
  • In the last ten years, Brazil has lost an average of 2.6 million hectares of forests per year.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, South America lost around 4 million hectares of forests due to deforestation.
  • The ongoing loss of glaciers in the Andes is threatening the water supply of 30 million people.


The good news
  • A new species of the harlequin toad was recently found in Chocó, Colombia. Harlequin toads are one of the most vulnerable groups of amphibians. Only a handful of more than 120 species of the toad have healthy populations.
  • The Galapagos National Park has implemented a plan to restore altered ecosystems on a number of islands in the Galapagos archipelago by eradicating introduced rodents - species that have been moved into areas where they do not occur naturally and may have negative ecological, economic, and human health impacts. This ambitious plan is the first of its kind in South America.
  • In 2008, the Brazilian Government announced a plan to enlarge the country’s network of protected areas – parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries - to cover nearly 600,000 square kilometers of the Amazon by 2016. The government also announced the creation of a US$ 21 billion fund called the Amazon Fund, to finance projects designed to prevent deforestation, support conservation and sustainable development of the Amazon region.
  • The Colombian agency Coralina received the Countdown 2010 Biodiversity Award for its efforts to help save biodiversity by establishing the Seaflower Marine Protected Area in the San Andres Archipelago in the western Caribbean. The Seaflower Marine Protected Area is an area with biodiversity-rich coastal and marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, beaches, and deep water. It has been nominated to become a World Heritage Site.