Birds

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

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. “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. 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. “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 — was parched. As of Sunday, nearly a quarter of the Pantanal — an area more than the size of Maryland — had been consumed by fir
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