Gigantic clouds of smoke overlook charred vegetation, where wildlife is in dire straits: fires “out of control”; are rampant in the Brazilian Pantanal, the largest wetland on the planet and a biodiversity sanctuary.
The region, famous for its jaguars, has been plagued by fires for several weeks. Satellites from the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (Inpe) detected 2,256 fires in the region from November 1 to 12, 11 times more than in the entire month of November 2022.
Along the Transpantaneira, a dirt road that crosses the Pantanal, an area supposed to be completely flooded is reduced to a small pond.
A few caimans swim there as best they can. Out of the water, the decomposing carcass of another is surrounded by dozens of flies.
A dead porcupine lies on a carpet of ashes in a completely charred wooded area.
“He probably died from inhaling smoke,” Aracelli Hammann, veterinarian with a team of volunteers from the Animal Disaster Rescue Group (Grad), told AFP.
Veterinarian Aracelli Hammann of the Animal Disaster Rescue Group (Grad), holds a porcupine killed by wildfires in the Pantanal wetland, Porto Jofre, state of Mato Grosso, November 11, 2023 in Brazil © AFP – Rogerio FLORENTINO
The team made this discovery in the Parc de la Rencontre des Eaux, one of the most affected areas.
In this park in the state of Mato Grosso (central-west) is the largest concentration of jaguars in the world.
According to data collected by the NGO Institut Center of Life (ICV), 32% of the park's surface has been affected by flames for more than a month.
The other front of the fires is in the Pantanal National Park of the State of Mato Grosso, of which 24% of the surface burned.
The decomposing carcass of a dead caiman as forest fires rage in the Pantanal wetland, in Porto Jofre, in the state of Mato Grosso, on November 11, 2023 in Brazil © AFP – Rogerio FLORENTINO
“The situation is completely out of control, and these two fronts are expected to meet soon. With the heat wave and the violent winds, the situation will certainly get worse,” warns biologist Gustavo Figueiroa, 31, director of the NGO SOS Pantanal.
“The impact is so strong that it is difficult to measure. The Pantanal is a region accustomed to fires. Normally, it is capable of regenerating naturally, but here, we had never seen a series of fires with such frequency,” he says.
– “Domino effect” –
According to specialists, these fires are caused above all by human action, in particular the use of the burning technique for agricultural expansion.
Firefighters fight against forest fires in the Pantanal wetland, near Porto Jofre, in the state of Mato Grosso, on November 13, 2023 in Brazil © AFP – Rogerio FLORENTINO
But the situation at this time end of the year was worsened by an exceptional drought.
“We saw a lot of dead animals, insects, amphibians, small mammals, which were unable to escape” , lists Gustavo Figueiroa.
“They are part of a food chain and the death of any animal causes a domino effect, until reaching the jaguar, which is at the top of the chain,” he emphasizes.
The Logistical challenges are enormous, with most sites affected by the flames only accessible by boat.
Members of the Animal Disaster Rescue Group (Grad) lay eggs to feed animals affected by the fires in the Pantanal wetland, near Porto Jofre, Mato Grosso state, November 11, 2023 in Brazil © AFP – Rogerio FLORENTINO
In the middle of a clearing, monkeys rush towards the bananas and eggs left for them by volunteers.
“With the fires, the “Natural food supply is no longer available for animals that have managed to escape the flames,” explains Jennifer Larreia, 33, president of the É o Bicho association.
During the historic fires that devastated the region in 2020, his NGO distributed 300 tons of fruit in five months.
A kingfisher resting on the branch of a burned tree by forest fires in the Pantanal wetland, in Porto Jofre, in the state of Mato Grosso, on November 11, 2023 in Brazil © AFP – Rogerio FLORENTINO
The Pantanal extends over an area of more than 170,000 km2, south of the Amazon, in the territories of Brazil, but also Bolivia and Paraguay.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), it is home to 656 species of birds, 159 mammals, 325 fish, 98 reptiles, 53 amphibians and more than 3,500 species of plants.
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