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Fri Sep 17, 2021, 08:07 AM

30% Of The Pantanal Burned In 2020, And Now It's On Fire Again; 1.7 Million Acres So Far In 2021

The fires that tore through South America’s Pantanal region in 2020, destroying 30% of its area, are still scorched in memory. And now, the world’s largest wetland that fans out across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay is burning again. Scientists are still trying to quantify the full extent of the damage of the 2020 fires, considered the worst in the Pantanal’s history. But it’s estimated that it may have impacted 65 million native vertebrates, including iconic species like jaguars (Panthera onca) and giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), as well as about 4 billion invertebrates.

As this year’s fire season kicks off, some experts are concerned about its cumulative impacts with the 2020 fires. In August, more than 1,500 fires were detected in the Brazilian section of the Pantanal, according to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Most are believed to have been set off by humans, either accidentally or intentionally. The ongoing drought in the region has created “the perfect landscape for fires,” said Heideger Lima do Nascimento, a biologist at the NGO Chalana Esperança.

It’s estimated that the fires have burned more than 700,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) across the Pantanal region in the aggregate period between January and August this year, the second largest in a decade, according to data compiled by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). The extension of this year’s fires — also endorsed by the Instituto SOS Pantanal — shows that this is again “an atypical year in the volume of fires,” URFJ climatologist Renata Libonati told Brazilian newspaper O Globo.


The Pantanal is a wetland biome that sprawls across nearly 19 million hectares (47 million acres) — an area larger than the U.S. state of Florida — and consists of grasslands, waterways and islands. The region, which has several conservation areas listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, boasts one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in South America. It’s home to a range of rare and threatened species, including the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) and maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus). Nascimento said he’s troubled about this year’s fires, calling them “very abnormal.” But other experts don’t share the same level of concern, noting that this year’s fires are much smaller and less substantial than last year’s. Despite these differing opinions, most experts do seem to agree that human-induced climate change has played a large part in making things drier and more fire-prone, and that government agencies, NGOs and communities need to continue working together to help protect the Pantanal from catastrophic fire events like the one in 2020.



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