As a result of the raging forest fires that continue to burn in areas of Latin America, more than two million wild animals have died in Bolivia, including jaguars, pumas, and llamas, among many others.
Scientists estimate about 2.4 million animals perished in fires burning in protected forest and grassland areas, such as the tropical savannas of the Chiquitania region in eastern Bolivia.
“We have consulted the biologists of Chiquitania and we have exceeded the estimate of more than 2.3 million missing animals in many protected areas,” Professor Sandra Quiroga of Santa Cruz University said.
More than 34,000 fires have so far affected Bolivia. They have been linked to farmers clearing land for their crops, as well as extended dry periods. Sergio Vasquez, a disaster response manager at World Animal Protection, described it as the biggest emergency Bolivia has ever seen.
The main victims of the fires have been Latin American ocelots, and other wild cats like pumas and jaguars, as well as deer, llamas — and smaller forest animals like anteaters, badgers, lizards, tapirs, and rodents, according to biologists investigating the scale of the damage.
“The forest is totally charred, and the damage is irreversible. It will never get back to normal,” said Quiroga.
Among the country’s nine departments, eastern Santa Cruz has been the hardest hit since the fires began in May and intensified in late August. Back then, the government enlisted special firefighting planes, a Supertanker Boeing 747 and a Russian Ilyushin, as well as helicopters, 5,000 firefighters, soldiers and police
Nevertheless, the fires have still not been extinguished. Environmentalists blame laws enacted under leftist President Evo Morales, who has encouraged the burning of forest and pastureland to expand agricultural production. The government attributes the blazes to dry weather and flame-fanning winds.
The situation faced by Bolivia is not much different than what’s happening in the Brazilian Amazon, though Brazil has received far more attention. In Brazil, the fires are also endangering the countless species but with no clear understanding of the consequences yet.
“The scale, intensity, and velocity of fire destruction are alarming and more intense than any other threat in comparable timescales,” Esteban Payan, the South America regional director for Panthera, said. “This is so alarming because there isn’t an equivalent collective response.”