Millions of wild animals will be killed or injured by fires being started in Brazil to clear land, environmentalists are warning.
But it’s only a start. Workers say they have already seen baby deer with their legs burnt, monkeys and jaguars turned to carbon by fire and others with burnt paws, dehydrated or starving, unable to find food or water.
Many of the fires that destroy habitats in Brazil’s biodiversity hot spots are started deliberately to clear land to grow crops to feed farmed animals worldwide.
World Animal Protection (WAP) says land is being cleared and burnt at record levels in the Pantanal region, in the country’s west, which is the world’s largest wetland.
Last year an estimated 65 million native vertebrates were killed or injured by fires in Pantanal, which also extends into Bolivia and Paraguay.
As this year’s fire season starts, already 138,948 blazes have been recorded in Brazil, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research.
The animal charity, together with a regional environmental organisation, and local rescuers, is creating escape corridors through the flames and smoke-logged areas, as well as providing water and nutrition for wildlife.
Rescuers say that where necessary, animals will be captured and treated before being released back into the wild where possible.
Greenpeace, which says Brazil’s fires are growing worse each year, has mounted a campaign against the forest burning in the Brazilian Amazon, Cerrado and the neighbouring Pantanal wetlands.
Farms use “slash and burn” practices to clear swathes of land of natural vegetation to grow soya for animal feed, which is exported globally for the meat industry, campaigners say.
Joao Almeida, executive director of World Animal Protection Brazil, said: “The Cerrado is considered a savannah ecosystem with some of the greatest biodiversity in the world, and the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland and a World Natural Heritage Site.
“Seeing the impact of these fires on the environment and wildlife is devastating.
“We have seen baby deer with their legs burnt, animals such as monkeys and jaguars completely carbonised, and others with their paws burnt, dehydrated or starving.
“We can no longer ignore the link between factory farming and the irresponsible behaviour of the big companies driving this devastation.”
In Brazil’s central state of Goias, fires that this month have destroyed at least 44,480 acres of vegetation now threaten a national park that’s home to rare species such as jaguars and maned wolves.
Leticia Larcher, a local biologist working with WAP, said: “Last year, 90 per cent of the total area that we work in to conserve went up in flames, and with that, it is estimated that over 17 million animals died. Our mission is to preserve the Pantanal.”
The charity is calling for a ban on new factory farms being built.
Fred Arruda, the Brazilian ambassador to the UK, says the country’s environmental legislation is “arguably the strictest in the world”, with 80 per cent of the area of each private property in the Amazon having to be kept with forest or other native vegetation. Brazilian farmers abide by these strict rules at their own expense, he said.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies