Amazon Basin

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Central & South American Geography

Amazon River basin
Amazon River basin

The Amazon Basin is the part of South America drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries. The basin is located mainly (54%) in Brazil, but also stretches into Peru and several other countries. The South American rain forest of the Amazon is the largest in the world, covering about 8,235,430 km2 with dense tropical forest. For centuries, this has protected the area and the animals residing in it.

Plant life

Not all of the plant and animal life in the Amazon Basin are known because of its huge unexplored areas. No one knows how many species of fish there are in the river. Plant growth is dense because rainfall and regrowth of leaves occur continually throughout each year.

Amazonian indigenous people

The Amazon Basin includes a diversity of traditional inhabitants as well as biodiversity in both flora and fauna. These peoples have lived in the rain forest for thousands of years, and their lifestyles and cultures are well-adapted to this environment. Contrary to popular belief, their subsistence living methods do not significantly harm the environment. In the past few decades, the real threat to the Amazon Basin has been deforestation and cattle ranching by large multinational corporations. People who live here also consume an extremely small amount of energy generated by plants and primary producers. Their energy-use percentage in the world is nearly zero. This is potentially helpful to the environment.


The Amazon basin has been continuously inhabited for more than 12,000 years, since the first proven arrivals of people in South America. Those peoples, when found by European explorers in the 16th century, were scattered in hundreds of small tribes with no writing system except for the part ruled by the Inca Empire. Perhaps as many as 90% of the inhabitants died because of European diseases within the first hundred years of contact, many tribes perished even before direct contact with Europeans, as their germs traveled faster than explorers, infecting village after village.

Upon the European discovery of America, the Portuguese and the Spanish signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, dividing the country into a large Spanish western part, which encompassed all of the then unknown North America and Central America, and western South America, the Portuguese had Eastern South America, what would become modern eastern Brazil. The Spanish claim was confirmed by explorers, most famously by the expedition of Francisco de Orellana in 1541-42.

By the late 17th century Portuguese/Brazilian explorers had dominated much of the Amazon basin because the mouth of the Amazon river lay within the Portuguese side, and the Brazilian inward exploration venturers such as the Bandeirantes, who originated in São Paulo, had conquered much of what is today central Brazil (states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás) and then proceeded to the Amazon. In 1750 the Treaty of Madrid certified the transfer of most of the Amazon basin and the region of Mato Grosso to the Portuguese side, hugely contributing to the continental size of what is now Brazil.

Brazilian General Cândido Rondon is also reckoned as a major 19th century explorer of the Amazon as well as a defender of its native peoples, the Brazilian state of Rondônia is named after him.

In 1903 Brazil bought a large portion of northern Bolivia and made it its current state of Acre. In 2006 the new socialist Bolivian president Evo Morales talked about "getting it back. The Brazilians got it for the price of a horse". No action was taken and the two nations remain friendly. In the late 19th century, a US-Brazilian joint venture failed to implement the Madeira-Mamoré railway, in the state of Rondônia, with a huge cost in money and lives.

Intense deforestation began in the second half of the 20th century, with population growth and development plans such as the failed Brazilian Trans-Amazonian Highway. In the late 1980s the Brazilian Chico Mendes, who lived in Acre, became internationally famous for his passionate defense of the forest and its people, especially after he was shot to death by farmers whose interests he harmed.


Amazonia is not heavily populated. There are a few cities along the Amazon's banks, such as Iquitos, Peru and scattered settlements inland, but most of the population lives in cities, such as Manaus in Brazil. In many regions, the forest has been cleared for soy bean plantations and ranching (the most extensive non-forest use of the land) and some of the inhabitants harvest wild rubber latex and Brazil nuts. This is a form of extractive farms, where the trees are not cut down, and thus this is a relatively sustainable human impact.

The land

The Amazon basin is bounded by the Guiana highlands in the north and the Brazilian highlands in the south. The Amazon, which rises in the Andes Mountains at the west of the basin, is the second longest river in the world. It covers a distance of about 6,400 km before draining into the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon and its tributaries form the largest volume of water. The Amazon accounts for about 20% of the total water carried to the oceans by rivers.Some of the Amazon Rainforest is deforested because of a growing interest in hardwood products. It is also very grassy.


The most widely spoken language in the Amazon is Portuguese, followed closely by Spanish. On the Brazilian side Portuguese is spoken by at least 98% of the population, whilst in the Spanish-speaking countries there can still be found a large amount of speakers of Native American languages, though Spanish easily predominates.

There are hundreds of native languages still spoken in the Amazon, most of which are spoken by only a handful of people, and thus seriously endangered. One of the most widely spoken languages in the Amazon is Reengage, which is actually descended from the ancient Tupi language, originally spoken in coastal and central regions of Brazil, and brought to its present location along the Rio Negro by Brazilian colonizers, who until the mid-17th century used Tupi more than the official Portuguese to communicate. Besides modern Reengage, other languages of the Tupi Family are spoken there, along with other language families like Jê (with its important subbranch Jayapura spoken in the Xingu River region and others), Arawak, Karib, Arawá, Yanomamo, Matsés and others. French, Spanish, and Portuguese are all similar to and derived from Latin.

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