(Pôrto Jofre) Instead of lush vegetation and abundant wildlife, the smell of burning, the glow of flames and desolation: the Brazilian Pantanal, a biodiversity sanctuary, is ravaged by fires.
France Media Agency
Felipe Maia, employee of a hotel who lived off ecotourism, tries to contain the advance of the fire by spraying with a pipe one of the wooden bridges that allow crossing the rivers on the Transpantaneira road of 150 km that connects Poconé to Porto Jofre, in central-western Brazil.
The region has suffered its worst drought in 47 years and many rivers are dry. Fires are relatively common this time of year, but this time around they are totally out of control.
About 23 500 Km 2 , near 12% of the largest wetland on the planet, which also extends to Paraguay and Bolivia, has already gone up in smoke since the start of the year.
“Every day, we pass on this road and as soon as we see an outbreak of fire nearby, we spray the bridges to prevent them from burning in their turn”, Felipe Maia explains to AFP , a few meters from an area covered with burning mounds.
Many residents, tourist guides, employees and owners of farm inns lend a hand to the firefighters day and night.
Animals in “critical condition” 2020
” It’s sad. We suffered the pandemic, which lasts longer than expected in Brazil, and we thought we would soon have a good tourism season, but the fires have arrived, ”laments Roberto Carvalho Macedo, tourist guide who is part of these volunteer patrols.
The satellites of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) have identified 1 er January to 13 September 14 764 fire outbreaks in the Brazilian Pantanal, an increase of 214% compared to the same period last year. The record for a whole year (12 500 outbreaks) has already been largely beaten, in just over nine months.
Roberto Carvalho Macedo is piloting a boat on which an AFP team plies the rivers of the Encontro das Aguas natural park, a large flood zone that begins where the Transpantaneira ends.
The green landscape of the river banks contrasts with the black and gray tone of the charred trees.
You can usually see a wide variety of animals there: caimans, giant otters, anteaters, not to mention the largest feline in the Americas, the jaguar.
Accompanied by a team of veterinarians and biologists, the young guide Eduarda Fernandes Amaral spent Sunday looking for a jaguar injured by fire, but the animal did not appear.
“All the animals that we were able to help were in very critical condition, with burns to the bone”, she explains, while installing makeshift feeders with water and fruit.
Animals that survive the flames may die of hunger or thirst.
Eduarda Fernandes Amaral admits that it is impossible to calculate precisely the number of animals affected, but assures that the losses are enormous.
“I hope at least these images allow people to open their eyes and understand that the biodiversity we have here is unique. We need to preserve it, it is very precious, ”she sums up.
“Feeling of impunity” 2020
These unprecedented fires are above all due to the exceptional drought: from January to May, it rained half as much as expected and many areas were not flooded as is usually the case.
But specialists consider that other factors must be taken into account, in particular the substitution of native vegetation by plants from outside intended for pasture which burn more easily.
Not to mention the “feeling of impunity” that reigns due to “the lack of resources for public environmental protection bodies”, denounces Vinicius Silgueiro, of the NGO Institut Center de Vie (ICV).
Many environmentalists criticize the environmental policies of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whom they blame for the upsurge in fires in the Pantanal and the Amazon.