New York, NY – Recent fires raging in the Amazon rainforest at a reported record rate have set off global alarm bells regarding the devastating loss of vast tracts of wild lands home to thousands of wildlife species, including wild cats like the jaguar and puma.
Based in the northern Amazon, Panthera South America Regional Director, Dr. Esteban Payan, stated, “The Amazon rainforest fires are a great blow to precious wildlife, wild lands and human communities that are sheltered and supported by the ‘lungs of our planet.’ We estimate the fires could be responsible for the loss of habitat homes for up to 100 adult resident jaguars, leaving them homeless or even dead alongside countless smaller and more abundant vulnerable species.”
The estimate of deceased or homeless jaguars is based on the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) July assessment of areas burnt equivalent to 4,281 square kilometers and a reasonable jaguar density estimate of 2.5 jaguars per 100 km2.
Nearly nine months into the year, the estimated number of fires in Brazil already far surpasses the number of fires in country throughout all of 2018. Although NASA indicates that as of 16 August 2019, total fire activity was within range of the 15-year average, the impacts are still concerning.
Jaguar Program and Conservation Science Executive Director, Dr. Howard Quigley, stated, “The shock waves of these exceptionally large and, for the most part, human-lit fires are being felt not only by the wildlife and people of Brazil, but also those in Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay. These fires stand to directly impact the continent, and in the end, the health of the planet as they hurt one of the cradles of biodiversity and greatest counter forces against global warming.”
Earlier this week and thousands of miles away, day was turned to night as São Paulo’s skies were blackened with smoke and ash believed to have originated from the Amazon fires. Home to the world’s largest continental wetland and among the highest density of jaguars anywhere, the Brazilian Pantanal has also fallen victim to the recent blazes, with Corumbá municipality registering the most fires in the nation.
Active since 2012, Panthera’s Pantanal Jaguar Project works to create one of the world’s largest, contiguous jaguar corridors, mitigate human-jaguar conflict through conservation demonstration ranches, foster a flourishing ecotourism industry and operate conservation education initiatives through the Panthera-built Jofre Velho School.
Dr. Payan added, “Sadly, the recovery of these lands isn’t assured, as they will likely be transformed for extensive agriculture, logging and livestock production. The conversion of these wild places ensures jaguars will probably never be welcome, permanently decreasing the species’ already dwindling distribution. Development and conservation can go hand in hand, but it takes careful planning.”
Having lost nearly 40 percent of its range, the jaguar is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, direct killing in retaliation for loss of livestock, overhunting of prey species by people and, more recently, the emerging threat of poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, as wild tiger and lion populations plummet. The particular intensity and speed of the recent Amazon fires allows little room for conservation planning and presents a dire threat to jaguar permanence.
Along with the trauma facing wild cats and other wildlife species, climate scientists are rightly concerned about the impacts of these events on global warming. The Amazon’s rainforest plays a critical role in absorbing heat, storing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, and in effect, ensuring that less carbon is released into the atmosphere to stave off climate change.
While extending into nine South American nations, sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest is located in the heart of Brazil. The Amazon forest biome is biologically the richest region on Earth, hosting approximately 25% of global biodiversity, and is a major contributor to the natural cycles required for the functioning of the Earth.
The Pantanal Jaguar Project is operated through Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative (JCI) - the only conservation program that seeks to protect jaguars across their six million km2 range. Working with governments, corporations, local communities and international and local conservation organizations, Panthera’s scientists seek to preserve the genetic integrity and future of the jaguar by connecting and protecting core populations from Mexico to Argentina.