Fires in Brazil destroy the main jaguar sanctuary in South America

Fires in Brazil destroy the main jaguar sanctuary in South America

The Pantanal has been burning for weeks. An area equivalent to the entire Valencian Community has already been burned. In recent years, safaris to spot jaguars have become a sustainable alternative for the local economy

Fires in Brazil destroy the main jaguar sanctuary in South America

Fortunately, the jaguar, the largest cat in America, is an animal that likes to swim. In recent weeks, many specimens of onça-pintada, as it is known in Brazil, had to jump into the water and flee through rivers and flooded areas, because their habitat is burning devastatingly. The Pantanal has been on fire since mid-August and for now the efforts to stop the flames are in vain. There are hundreds of different foci and the enormous extension of the territory makes the means totally insufficient. 15 percent of its surface has already been burned , more than 2.3 million hectares, the equivalent of the entire Valencian Community.

The fires, the worst in decades, are being especially severe because of the drought. Although it is a wetland, the Pantanal burns to a greater or lesser extent every year. In the dry season, farmers take advantage of it to create pastures and sometimes the fire gets out of control. Months later, with the rains, the water floods everything and the vegetation recovers quickly, but specialists warn that this year the phenomenon goes beyond seasonal fire.

“As this year has been very dry, natural barriers such as rivers and marshes are not making the barrier effect. With the wind, the fire passes through them. It is of a very large magnitude, it is not comparable to previous fires “, says Fernando Tortato, a researcher for the international NGO Panthera in Brazil, who has spent weeks without hardly sleeping trying to stop the flames by making firebreaks. “We are controlling where the fire is and with the help of the firefighters sometimes we manage to make a line of a few kilometers and send the fire to another area, but in very remote areas, such as in the park, it is almost impossible,” he explains in statements to The world.

Impact on the local economy

Fires in Brazil destroy the main jaguar sanctuary in South America

The park he refers to is the Encontro das Águas reserve , a protected area that is home to one of the largest concentrations of jaguars in the world . According to estimates by local authorities, there are eight animals per 100 square kilometers. The flames have already consumed more than 85 percent of this reserve. In the town of Poconé, fires pushed the animals into inhabited areas. A jaguar ended up entering several houses and was eventually rescued with third degree burns. Fire mainly affects small animals and slower ones, but in the medium term there is a direct impact on the entire food chain, which has this majestic feline at its peak.

Fire is not only lethal for fauna and flora, but also for an entire local economy that in recent years began to revolve around ecotourism and that has the jaguar as its main claim . In the huge private estate of the Onçafari association, it is estimated that there are about 150 jaguars, all of them living in absolute freedom, although a few wear radio transmitter necklaces. The high density of animals makes sightings easy. In recent years the number of tourists increased by almost 300 percent and the vast majority return home with the memory of having seen the feline a few meters away, according to the project coordinator biologist Lilian Rampim.

In just a few years, the cultural landscape of the Pantanal changed radically. “It stopped being an inhospitable place dominated by men on horseback,” Lilian jokes. “Now that man's wife works in a pousada, money moves … There is no use wanting to protect the animal just because. We have to show why it is worth protecting it . One of our guides is the son and grandson of hunters. His lineage grew with the understanding that the jaguar had to be killed. Now that boy speaks English and teaches his family that the jaguar provides work and transforms the local economy, “he says proudly.

All this work now at risk has been done in recent years step by step, with many difficulties and with very little help from the State. Unlike what happens in Spain with wolves and bears, where compensation is distributed for loss of head of cattle, in Brazil there is no policy in this regard. “The government does not compensate anything and the people end up doing justice with their own hands.” Jaguar hunting has been banned since 1967 and poaching has not so much to do with the trafficking of its skin (less and less in demand) but rather with absurd displays of virility in places where the animal is still seen as a vermin.

Fires in Brazil destroy the main jaguar sanctuary in South America

There are also no public policies for the preservation of the jaguar, its reproduction in captivity and its reintroduction in areas where it is already extinct. Specific initiatives such as those of Onçafari, financed with the resources of the visits, fill that void. In recent years they have reintroduced four specimens in the Pantanal and in the Amazon. For now, this year, the Cayman ecological refuge, where this project is being developed, has been saved from the flames, but last year it was seriously affected. Once the flames give way to the ashes, Lilian knows exactly what to do. Before the rainy season begins, small natural watering holes will have to be built to stimulate the return of fauna, so that nature continues its cycle and the jaguars return … and tourists.

Bolsonaro: “We are in luck”

Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles admitted this week that the fire is of “gigantic proportions”, but did not announce any measure to stop it and blamed restrictions that limit the use of controlled fire, because they make vegetation grow. out of control and then burn more easily. The Federal Police have indications that the vast majority of the outbreaks are provoked and are investigating the owners of five different farms.

The president, Jair Bolsonaro, for the moment refused to send federal aid or mobilize the military, and oblivious to all the criticism, he showed chest for his management: “Brazil is the country that preserves the environment the most, and some do not understand How can it be that it is the country that suffers the most attacks from abroad in relation to the environment. Brazil is in luck for the way it preserves its environment, “he said.

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