Trashing the Last Paradise. World’s biggest Pantanal Wetlands still Ablaze

As Brazil’s wetlands burned, neo-fascist Bolsonaro regime did worse than nothing to help

Tatiana Pollastri And David Biller / The Associated Press

September 30, 2020 02:53 PM

As Brazil’s wetlands burned, government did little to help

Jair Bolsonaro’s government says it has mobilized hundreds of federal agents and military service members to the region to douse the flames. However, all along the only highway through the northern Pantanal, dozens of people —  firefighters, ranchers, tour guides and veterinarians — told The Associated Press that the government has exaggerated its response and there are few federal boots on the ground.

The world’s largest wetland is on fire: how can we save the Pantanal?

These are small outtakes of the devastating fires happening in the Pantanal, shared with us in late September 2020 by Reinaldo Nogales.

PORTO JOFRE, Brazil — After hours navigating Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands in search of jaguars earlier this month, Daniel Moura beached his boat to survey the fire damage. In every direction, he saw only devastation. No wildlife, and no support from federal authorities.

“We used to see jaguars here all the time; I once saw 16 jaguars in a single day,” Moura, a guide who owns an eco-tourism outfit, said on the riverbank in the Encontro das Aguas state park, which this year saw 84% of its vegetation destroyed.


A caiman sits in a field of green as a fire consumes an area next to the Trans-Pantanal highway in the Pantanal wetlands near Pocone, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.

“Where are all those animals now?”

The world’s largest tropical wetlands, the Pantanal is popular for viewing the furtive felines, along with caiman, capybara and more. This year it is exceptionally dry and burning at a record rate. The fires have been so intense that at one point smoke reached Sao Paulo, 900 miles away.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s government says it has mobilized hundreds of federal agents and military service members to douse the flames. However, all along the only highway through the northern Pantanal, dozens of people — firefighters, ranchers, tour guides and veterinarians — told The Associated Press the government has exaggerated its response and there are few federal boots on the ground.

shared with us in late September 2020 by Reinaldo Nogales.



Investors fail to protect the Amazon, conservation group finds

Just 21 of the investors who signed the 2019 statement have their own zero-deforestation policies for all the forest-risk commodities in their portfolios, Global Canopy said.They include BNP Paribas, DNB Asset Management, HSBC and Storebrand Group. .. A further 12 investment firms, including Aviva Investors, have policies for timber, palm oil or both but not for soy and cattle, despite these being the main drivers of deforestation in Brazil, according to the Global Canopy assessment.

What makes the Pantanal so unique?

It is estimated that about 1.2 million hectares of land across the Pantanal have been lost, or 16% of its entire surface, destroying vast areas of vegetation and causing the death of numerous animals, including many that are rare and endangered species.

Under President Jair Bolsonaro – who has voiced fervent opposition against environmental protections – funding for federal agencies tasked with protecting the Pantanal and the Amazon have been dramatically cut.

The fragile biome is under considerable pressure, and there is no singular cause. Intensification of agriculture and cattle ranching activities, less than favourable climatic conditions, compounded by a government prioritizing economic gains over the environment make this a challenging situation.

The Pantanal is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the world’s largest natural wetland. Considered one of the most important biomes in the world, it is a key habitat for more than 1,000 animal species, including 36 facing extinction, as

well as large numbers of trees and aquatic plants. It is home to the world’s largest population of jaguars as well as a large diversity of trees and aquatic plants. It is also home to one million indigenous people. But almost 95% of this territory is privately owned, and split between traditional landowning families, smallholder farmers and large-scale cattle ranchers.

Understanding the reasons behind the fires

While a single fire can be started by humans, raging wildfires like these can’t be attributed solely to one factor — climate change, farming practices and politics are all adding fuel.

Most of the land in the Pantanal is used by large cattle ranchers, who often start fires to clear the land for cultivation and grazing. Usually, this practice is allowed under certain conditions during the wet season. But with a government doing little to enforce anti-fire precautions, the door is open to frequent illegal fires.

photo from Mongabay. shared with thanks! “There were no conditions for natural wildfires, there weren’t thunderstorms,” the enforcement source said. “These fires were provoked. All the fires that are burning are the results of human activity really.”

While officially, man-made fires are banned for 120 days, Bolsonaro’s government has been cutting funding and undermining environmental protection, and our partners have had to deal with the consequences in several areas of Brazil, from the Pantanal to the Mata Atlântica.

Bolsonaro plays down Amazon fires

According to the firefighters we support with ITPA in the Mata Atlântica, there is not nearly enough being done to stop illegal fires:

“Illegal fires sprout either via household fires or landowners purposefully starting fires to clear lands for pastures and animal grazing. These fires not only extinguished the hard work of our tree planting partners, but have wider damages such as rendering the soil infertile and harming wildlife populations such as birds, cobras and small mammals.”

“With the government of Bolsonaro, these environmentally damaging practices become somewhat legitimized and more widespread, and efforts in reducing these fires only back-pedalled.”

Firefighters trying to stop the fires from further damaging the Pantanal. Picture by Archive Ecoa 2020.

All of this is playing against a concerning climate change-induced backdrop. Last year, a poor rainy season resulted in the Paraguay River that is running through the area reaching its lowest level in 50 years, leading to dangerously low levels of humidity for a wetland. Add to that higher than average temperatures and strong winds, and you have the ideal conditions for fires to thrive.


APIB oficial@ApibOficialLevel 1: Around 80 families of the Guató people are today threatened by the fire that is advancing on the Pantanal and on the Baía dos Guató Indigenous Land, approved in 2018 and one of the three Indigenous Lands (TIs) affected by the fires, which have already consumed 19% of the total area of the biome… Help these people

Two major sources of moisture for the Pantanal are also being disrupted, contributing to the severe drought: In the Atlantic Ocean, warming temperatures mean that moisture is being carried further up north. In the Amazon, the destruction of the forest means fewer trees to produce moisture — usually, the jungle is the source of those “flying rivers,” clouds of moisture that are being carried across the land by the wind.

Bottom line is, there is no singular cause behind these fires, and therefore no simple response. They show an entanglement of factors including human activity, aggravated by worsening climatic conditions, and less than favorable politics.

The fires are likely to return next year. The question lies in what we will learn to mitigate the situation in the aftermath, and prevent it from getting worse, in order to reduce the costs of losing both human and animal lives as well as fragile ecosystems.

What is Ecosia doing?

  • We have planted over 3,5 million trees in Brazil, and have already paid for planting another
  • Since tree planting also involves making sure our trees stay alive, we have been investing in firefighting in Brazil to protect the forest from the increasing number of wildfires. Ecosia has invested €318,712 in firefighting, which has helped save an estimated 3,5 million trees since mid 2018.
  • In 2020, we have signed contracts committing to 9,510,00
The Dramatic Struggle to Save the Threatened Blue Macaw from Brazil's  Pantanal Fires - brazzil
  • 0 more trees in Brazil, and 3,500,000 are in the Cerrado.
  • Thanks to an increase in users following the devastating fire season of 2019, we were able to finance an additional 3 million trees in Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest. Of those trees, 1.7 million have already been planted. The remaining trees will be planted at the end of this year with some delay, due to the COVID-19 lockdown measures.

What can you do?

The Ecosia tree-planting team is constantly talking to our partner


organizations in Brazil. Together with their contacts on the ground, they are helping us get a better understanding of the situation, in order to assess how we can further support them. In the meantime, one major way you can help is by spreading awareness about this issue — the Brazilian government needs to feel the pressure of an international outcry.

What little concrete assistance has come mostly from planes dropping water from above, locals said, but that only happened after great delay and mainly targeted private ranches rather than protected areas. Making matters worse, several aircraft remained grounded at the start of the inferno.

Conservation news on Pantanal

“I can’t see much federal help; it is basically us here,” said Felipe Augusto Dias, executive director of SOS Pantanal, an environmental group.

Both sides of the Trans-Pantanal highway — an area that should feature pools of water, even in its dry season — were parched. As of Sunday, nearly a quarter of the Pantanal — an area more than the size of Maryland — had been consumed by fire, according to satellite imagery from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Pantanal vegetation can regenerate quickly with rain, but the wildlife that survive are left stranded without habitat.

The Brazilian Amazon is experiencing its worst rash of fires in nearly 10 years, data from space research agency INPE shows.Last month, INPE satellites recorded 32,017 hotspots in the world’s largest rainforest, a 61 percent increase compared with the same month in 2019.

Along that scorched landscape were injured and disoriented animals, plus charred corpses of others. On the river, Moura motored past a dead 6-foot-long anaconda, tangled on a fallen tree branch. A fawn, lost and alone amid burned shrubs, eyed the boat. The sky was an apocalyptic orange.

Pantanal fires began burning wildly in July and continued into September. The number of fires so far this year — more than 17,000 — exceeds the 12-month totals for every year on record, stretching back to 1998, and is triple the annual average, according to data from the government’s space agency, which uses satellites to count the blazes.

Fires, whether intentionally set or the result of lightning strikes, can easily spiral out of control in the dry season. A Federal Police investigation indicates fires to clear pastures at four ranches spread across 25,000 hectares (almost 100 square miles), detective Alan Givigi said. The wildfire burned preservation areas and a national park.

APIB oficial@ApibOficial·Data from INPE shows that the 1st fortnight of September 2020 saw more wildfires in the Amazon than during the whole of September 2019. Between the 1st and 15th of September, 21,349 fire outbreaks were identified, well above the 19,925 of September of 2019. #WhichSideAreYouOn

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Bolsonaro said Brazil has been targeted by a disinformation campaign, and compared the Pantanal’s vulnerability to that of California — without noting that this year’s Pantanal wildfires have destroyed an area more than twice the size of California’s blazes.

“Large fires are the inevitable consequences of high local temperature in addition to the accumulation of decomposing organic matter,” he said in his pre-recorded message.

With government agents largely absent, firefighters and volunteers carved firebreaks and used buckets and hoses to battle walls of flames. Along a dirt road off the Trans-Pantanal, a man carrying a basin of water ran from his improvised water truck to a stretch of burning vegetation. It had little effect as wind redirected the flames toward a tree, causing it to explode as though it had been soaked with gasoline.

“The wind changed direction,” Divino Humberto said dejectedly. “It (the fire) is going into the forest.”

Brazil’s Defence Ministry told the AP that numbers vary day to day, but on Sept. 14, the navy had 172 service members in the Pantanal in Mato Grosso, along with 139 federal agents and 11 aircraft. That same day, the Mato Grosso state firefighters corps said the count of navy and agents was only 60, and there was just one plane.

During the five days AP journalists travelled the Pantanal this month, they didn’t see a single member of Brazil’s armed forces.

The Defence Ministry didn’t respond to AP questions about the disparity between its figures and those from the firefighters.

The Chico Mendes Institute, which administers federal parks for the Environment Ministry, hired five planes to drop water in Mato Grosso, a ministry statement said.

But pilots complained they were denied permission to fly when they arrived in mid-August, when the fires had already been burning for weeks, despite sufficient visibility to do so.

“The pilots said it clearly: If those five planes had fought throughout that week, there wouldn’t have been a big fire,” said Mario Friedlander, an environmentalist and photographer who has worked in the region for 40 years and came to volunteer, told the AP. “The fire would have been drastically controlled.”

One pilot said the mission was delayed because those in charge wanted to wait for the environment minister to arrive. But as panic set in, he said the planes were ordered airborne to put out fires burning bridges on the Trans-Pantanal, then told to stand down again.

Only after Environment Minister Ricardo Salles came on Aug. 18 did flights begin with some regularity, said the pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job.

The Environment Ministry declined to respond to repeated requests for comment. However, a source at the Chico Mendes Institute, who was involved in the firefighting strategy, said dropping water from planes only helps if there is ground support, which there sometimes wasn’t. Otherwise flying can be ineffective, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Meanwhile, as fires raged, animals were injured, displaced or perished. Mato Grosso’ firefighters and environment secretariat created a centre for rescued animals.

“We try to have hope to rescue the few animals we can,” veterinarian Karen Ribeiro said after treating the injured wing of a jabiru — a massive bird that is a symbol of the Pantanal.

Dias, the SOS Pantanal director, also said volunteers have begun focusing less on fighting fires than rescuing animals, leaving fruit in places where lost creatures might find it.

After eight hours of searching, Moura, the guide, finally found a jaguar. It was limping; likely it had burned its paws, he said. Eventually it lay down on a spot of partially burned vegetation.

Earlier this month, Brazil’s government approved 13.9 million reais (about $2.5 million) to fight the fires, though most of the money is contingent on Mato Grosso getting approval for projects before a 90-day deadline. One week ago it dispatched 43 national guard firefighters to the region.

The fresh funds and troops came almost two months after the Pantanal blazes began and shortly before rains are anticipated.

Moura said he doubts the money will come through in time to make any difference whatsoever.

“Unfortunately, that is the situation,” Moura said. “They act like they’re putting out the fires, and we act like we believe it.”


Biller contributed from Rio de Janeiro. Mauricio Savarese contributed from Sao Paulo.

But government cynically blames the problem on environmentalists and indigenous without evidence.

General Augusto Heleno, head of the GSI, has already started trying to build this narrative on social networks. He said that the campaign “Defund Bolsonaro” (Desfinancie Bolsonaro) would be the work of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples. According to him, the entity chaired by a “PSOL activist and linked to the actor

Diálogos do Sul: APIB rechaça acusações de Heleno: “O que lesa nossa pátria  é a omissão do governo federal"

Diálogos do Sul: APIB rechaça acusações de Helen0..APIB rejects accusations

Leonardo Di Caprio”, would act “24 hours a day to tarnish the image” of Brazil abroad “.The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) is behind the fires”.website ( whose objectives are to publish fake news against Brazil; imputing environmental crimes to the President of the Republic; and support international boycott campaigns for Brazilian products.–

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photo from Mongabay, shared with thanks.

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