Cavernas do Peruaçu Federal Environmental Protection Area (APA) / Veredas Do Peruaçu State Park
Braziliian Institute of Environment and Renewalable Natural Resources (IBAMA)
State of Minas Gerais
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Area:APA: 150.000 hectares.
Including: State Park: 30.702 hectares
Climate: Sub-humid to semi-arid Tropical7 with 6 month dry season
temp: 24° C year average.
· pluv: 850 mm total /year Altitude: +1- 455- 834 m.
Geomorphology and hydrology:
Pernaçu river is one of the few permanent affluents of the Sao Francisco river on its course from sub-humid tropical Cerrado's where it started, towerds the semi-arid Caatinga's of north-eastern Brazil. Its watershed is situated on poorly drained, sedimentary arenite tops of high plateau or " Chapadao". On its course northwards, acid waters and alluvial sands and gravel drilled a 20 Km tunnel in the limestone of an extensive calcareous Massif (Bambai Group). During millions of years, erosion from the river excavated the original tunnel, forming a huge gallery. Simultaneously, rain waters, infiltrating through cracks on top of the massif, corroded the upper part of the tunnel, that eventually collapsed in large sections. Large diaclasis, aven's, caves and secondary galleries appeared. The Peruaçu flows now through a deep canyon, boarded by high limestone cliffs, opened by caves, holes and secondary galleries. It is crossed by impressive limestone 'bridges' and in some stretches still flows underground, through monumental caves like the Olhos d'Agua cave 6 Km long and Janelso cave, 3.020 m long, 400 m wide and 200 m high, one of worid's largest underground " room" .
Exceptional stalactite may be worid's larnest (28 m high). The whole 20 Km2 massif, sculptured in"ruins", pinnacles, caves, galleries, some 400 m wide, 70 m deep aven' s and dolina's, is far from being totally explored.
Vegetation in the area is diversified and well preserved. Phyto-physiognomy varies depending on soil nature, fertility and drainage.
The calcareous massif is covered by rare and typical Deciduous (Caatinga) or Semi-deciduous forests with species adapted to its alkaline soil and seasonal water deficit (limestone doesn't retain water during the dry season and rains are not frequent). These forests called " Dry forests" (Mata Seca), almost totally disappeared from Central Brazil.
Along the river courses, grow Gallery forests, with high canopy trees, abundant epiphytes and differentiated floristic composition.
Open shrub savannah (Campo Cerrado) occur on the sierra tops' poorly drained area's of the Park, where Peruaçu originates. Shrub density decreases when water saturates (watershed). Vegetation is then totally herbaceous (Campo Limpo and Veredas), with localised Buriti palm-trees.
The area shelters a rich and diversified Cerrado fauna, with rare and endangered species and some endemism. It is considered an important bird migration route.
Main municipalities are Itacarambi (urban pop.: 36.830, rural pop.: 40.909- IBGE 1996) and Januaria (urban pop.: 13.388, rural pop.: 9.092 - IBGE 1996). Most descend from early immigrants (Bandeirantes). Rural population is generally poor, surviving from low impact small scale traditional agriculture and high impact charcoal burning of the"dry forest". Their well preserved culture is marked by original handcrafting and feasts. Xacriaba Indian territory and communities (35) in the valley, sum up 4.570 and add to the region's cultural richness.
The Peruaçu valley's canyons, caves, galleries and permanent water favoured human occupation since as soon as 12.000 years ago. Rock paintings are extremely abundant all over the area, in shelters, on canyon walls and cave entrances. Several styles coexist, allowing to study successive cultural influences. Caves' dryness exceptionally conserved
organic remains, like food reliefs. Primary occupation was of hunters/collectors. More recently, vegetables were cultivated: corn, tobacco, cotton, manloc, beans, etc. Grain storage's and paintings of corn were found (Lapa do Boquete & Lapa dos Desenhos).
Access and infrastructure
Access is by road, from Januaria or Itacarambi.