The Pantanal wetlands of western Brazil, famed for their biodiversity, are experiencing a surge in wildfires as the combined impacts of climate change and El Niño cause havoc across the country, according to reports.
Satellite imagery from Brazilian space research agency INPE showed 2,387 fires in the Pantanal in just the first 13 days of November, an increase of more than 1,000 percent over the whole month of November 2022. The outbreaks appear to be driven by a southern hemisphere spring of droughts and record heat.
“The situation is completely out of control,” laments biologist Gustavo Figueiroa, head of the environmental group SOS Pantanal. “[Between] the heat wave and the wind, it’s only going to get worse.
At 168,000 square kilometres, the Pantanal wetlands are the world’s largest tropical wetlands, home to spectacular wildlife, including caimans, macaws, monkeys and jaguars. Sitting at the southern edge of the Amazon Rainforest, they stretch from Brazil into Bolivia and Paraguay.
Since the beginning of November, fires have impacted nearly one-third of the area. A second wildfire front in Brazil, raging in the Pantanal National Park to the southwest, has burned 24 percent of the surface area there and, Figueiroa warns, the two fronts “are about to merge.”
Organisations like SOS Pantanal are already seeing the impact on wildlife in the area, much of which is unable to flee the flames. Losing parts of the “invisible food chain” – insects, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and the like – has a domino effect that can reach all the way up to apex predators like the jaguar.