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Bolivia's Forest Fires Have Left More Than 2 Million Animals Dead

Gizmodo Australia logo Gizmodo Australia 27/09/2019 Yessenia Funes
a lot of smoke around it: The Chiquitania Forest ablaze on August 30, 2019. (Photo: AP) © Photo: AP The Chiquitania Forest ablaze on August 30, 2019. (Photo: AP)

Not all animals can escape when fire comes burning through the forest. In Bolivia, millions of animals are likely dead as a result of the raging forest fires that continue to burn across the region, including the Amazon.

Scientists told AFP that more than 2.3 million animals perished in fires burning in protected forest and grassland areas, such as the tropical savannas of the Chiquitania region in eastern Bolivia. The nearly 34,000 fires that have scorched Bolivia — 75 per cent higher than this time last year according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research — are due to farmers clearing land for their crops, as well as extended dry periods, Sergio Vasquez, a disaster response manager at World Animal Protection, told Gizmodo.

“From my understanding, this emergency is the biggest ever in Bolivia,” Vasquez wrote in an email statement.

The situation in Bolivia is not much different than what’s happening in the Brazilian Amazon though Brazil has received far more attention. In Brazil, these fires are endangering the countless species that call the Amazon home. too. But the toll is becoming clearer in Bolivia.

Vasquez said that many of the bigger animals have a better chance to escape the fires. Still, that doesn’t mean all can make it out alive: Some 500 jaguars are believed dead or homeless in Brazil and Bolivia, according to Panthera, a global conservation organisation that monitors these animals.

That’s a huge number for these big cats, which already face threat from habitat loss and poaching. But the 500 jaguars makes up only a small portion of the 2 million animals that have likely died or suffered habitat loss. Among the animals that likely died in the flames are ocelots, frogs and anteaters. Slower and smaller creatures insects and reptiles are most at risk. Even mammals such as sloths and armadillos have been threatened by fire, but they can burrow underground to survive.

It’s tough to know exactly how the death toll this year compares to previous ones. Panthera, for instance, didn’t track the jaguars lost to fires last year. However, the number of fires this year compared to years past has exploded. The situation’s gotten so bad for wild animals that researchers have even created a temporary animal shelter and hospital for those that survive the flames, according to National Geographic.

“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, wrote in an email to Gizmodo. “This is so alarming because there isn’t an equivalent collective response.”

Saving animals might not feel like a priority when people’s lands and lives — especially the indigenous people who live in the forest — are at stake. But these animals are key to keeping the ecosystems they normally inhabit functioning. Many people also depend on these animals for food. Their loss is not something to just balk at in sadness; their deaths require action.

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