Brazil’s Pantanal Wetlands Ravaged by Fires, Threatening Jaguars and Ecosystem

by Andrew Wright
Pantanal wildfires

Firefighting teams in the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil prematurely celebrated the cessation of fire season in an early November Facebook post. However, their relief was short-lived. The first half of November witnessed devastating fires across nearly 770,000 hectares (about 1.9 million acres) of the Pantanal, the largest tropical wetlands globally, according to preliminary data from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. These fires represent 65% of the total fire damage in the region for the year.

A jaguar was observed in a recently fire-affected area of the Encontro das Aguas park, near Pocone, Mato Grosso state, on November 17, 2023. This incident underscores the widespread wildfires currently plaguing the Pantanal biome. The National Institute for Space Research in Brazil reported a staggering increase in fires this November, with 3,380 incidents compared to only 69 in the same period last year, setting a new record since 1998.

The Pantanal is a biodiversity hotspot, hosting a plethora of species, including 159 mammals. It is particularly famous for its jaguar population. The Encontro das Aguas park, straddling the Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul states, has seen its lush greenery turn to dark brown. A Big Big News team reported seeing a jaguar by the riverbanks amidst the charred landscape. Local resident Leonisio da Silva, 53, expressed his concerns about the potential displacement of jaguars due to the ongoing fires.

Wildfires have also been observed near the Transpantaneira, or MT-060, a key road through the Pantanal, near Pocone, Mato Grosso state. The state government of Mato Grosso do Sul has initiated a joint task force and declared a state of emergency in four municipalities heavily affected by the fires. Mato Grosso state has also bolstered its firefighting efforts and plans to invest 6.4 million reais (about 1.3 million dollars) in the region.

The fires have resulted in reduced visibility, leading to the temporary closure of the BR-262 highway and a small plane crash. Local authorities’ response to the crisis has been criticized for being slow. Veterinarian Enderson Barreto from Porto Jofre lamented the lack of timely action despite early warnings, noting the now uncontrollable situation.

Barreto, who assists in both animal rescue and firefighting, described the impact of the fires as “unmeasurable.” While the Pantanal’s vegetation can recover quickly with rain, intense fires leave surviving wildlife without a habitat. The current fires, though not as severe as those in 2020, are causing significant damage to the ecosystem, particularly affecting small reptiles and amphibians, crucial for ecological balance.

For more detailed coverage on climate and environmental issues, visit Big Big News.

Contributions from Jeantet in Rio de Janeiro.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Pantanal wildfires

What areas are affected by the wildfires in Brazil?

The Pantanal wetlands, the world’s largest tropical wetlands located in Brazil, are significantly affected. The fires have ravaged nearly 770,000 hectares, particularly impacting the Encontro das Aguas park and areas near the Transpantaneira road in Mato Grosso state.

How severe are the wildfires in the Pantanal compared to previous years?

The wildfires in November 2023 have set a new record since 1998, with over 3,380 fires detected, a significant increase from the 69 fires in the same period last year. While not as devastating as the 2020 fires, the current situation is still causing considerable ecological damage.

What species are most threatened by the Pantanal wildfires?

The fires are particularly threatening to the jaguar population, a hallmark species of the Pantanal. Other wildlife, including small reptiles and amphibians, which play a crucial role in the ecosystem’s balance, are also severely impacted.

How are local and state governments responding to the wildfires?

The state government of Mato Grosso do Sul has launched a joint task force and declared a state of emergency in four municipalities. The neighboring state of Mato Grosso has increased its firefighting workforce and plans significant investment in the region to combat the fires.

What are the main challenges in combating the Pantanal wildfires?

The challenges include logistical difficulties in accessing remote fire sites, the need for more timely and effective response from authorities, and the limited visibility due to smoke, which has led to road closures and hindered rescue efforts.

What is the impact of the wildfires on the Pantanal’s ecosystem?

The wildfires are causing substantial habitat loss for wildlife, and the intensity of the fires can lead to long-term ecological damage. The regeneration of vegetation is possible with rain, but the loss of dense forested areas and the impact on the wildlife population are significant concerns.

More about Pantanal wildfires

  • Pantanal Wetlands
  • Brazil Wildfires
  • Jaguar Conservation
  • Ecological Impact of Fires
  • Mato Grosso State Response
  • Wildlife Threats from Wildfires
  • Firefighting Challenges in Pantanal
  • Environmental Effects of Pantanal Fires

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Jake M November 20, 2023 - 3:01 pm

wow, this is really tragic, didn’t know the Pantanal was facing such huge fires, hope the jaguars and other animals will be ok, this needs more international attention…

Mike87 November 20, 2023 - 3:30 pm

does anyone know how we can help, like any charities or something, this is a real crisis and it feels like we’re just watching it happen, we need to do something.

SaraT November 20, 2023 - 7:31 pm

reading this just makes me sad, those poor animals, especially the jaguars, they’re such amazing creatures, its heartbreaking to see their habitat destroyed.


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