Fires in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands have ripped through the biodiverse region, consuming an area the size of London in just the past 10 days, burning some animals alive and sending others fleeing.
The inferno in the world’s largest tropical wetlands is the latest environmental disaster facing Brazil, coming after a mysterious oil spill that is afflicting beaches in the northeast and August fires that raged in the Amazon region.
The Pantanal, which sprawls over parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, is a popular ecotourism destination considered one of the best places to see wildlife in South America. During the wet season, rivers overflow their banks and make most of the region accessible only by boat and plane. In the dry season, wildlife enthusiasts flock to see jaguars lounging on riverbanks, as well as macaws, giant river otters and caiman.
But this year’s dry season has extended much longer than usual.
Firefighters say the cause is likely local people setting fires to clear land of vegetation, a practice also blamed for many of the Amazon fires. Such burning is particularly common among cattle ranchers, who use fire rather than costly equipment to prepare pastures.
Fires in the Pantanal this year have been overshadowed by the months-long period of blazes seen in the Amazon region. The governor of Mato Grosso do Sul declared a state of emergency on Sept. 11 after over 10,000 square kilometers (nearly 3,900 square miles) burned in the previous five weeks in the state’s portion of the Amazon.