What does the the Amazon fires mean for wildlife? According to National Geographic's Natasha Daly, "In the Amazon, nothing is adapted to fire. 10 percent of Earth’s animal species live there." The Amazon rainforest is the major habitat for one in ten species on Earth, and that number risks perishing by fire.
According to the numbers . . .
This August, wildfires have increased in number to 9,000. This covers the vast territory of Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru. This is an 80 percent increase over this time last year, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research [INPE]. These fires are so extensive, they can be seen from space.
Amazon differs from other ecosystems . . .
For the hundreds of thousands of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and bird species that reside in the Amazon, the impact is twofold: one is immediate, the other, long-term.
While in some terrains, wildfires are essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems, the Amazon differs.
“Basically, the Amazon hadn’t burnt in hundreds of thousands or millions of years,” says William Magnusson, a researcher specializing in biodiversity monitoring at INPA. It’s not like in Australia, for instance, where eucalyptus would die out without regular fires, he says. The rainforest is not built for fire.
In the short-term . . .
It’s likely they’re taking a “massive toll on wildlife in the short term,” says Mazeika Sullivan, associate professor at Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, who has done extensive fieldwork in the Colombian Amazon.
"Generally, in the midst of wildfire," Sullivan says, "animals have very few choices. They can try to hide by burrowing or going into water," he says. "They can be displaced. Or they can perish. In this situation, a lot of animals will die, from flames, heat from the flames, or smoke inhalation," says Sullivan.
“You’ll have immediate winners and immediate losers,” adds Sullivan. “In a system that isn’t adapted to fire, you’ll have a lot more losers than you will in other landscapes.”
Certain wildlife characteristics may be beneficial during wild fires. Being inherently mobile helps. Large, quick forest animals like jaguars and pumas may be able to escape, as may some birds. But slow-moving animals like sloths and anteaters, as well as smaller creatures like frogs and lizards will most likely perish, unable to move out of the fire's quick path.
Taking the rainforest away . . .
“Once you take the rainforest away, [you lose] 99 percent of all species,” Magnusson says. If these wildfires were a one-off, he wouldn’t necessarily be worried, but he notes there’s been a fundamental change in policy in Brazil “that encourages deforestation.” He’s referring to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s commitment to open up the Amazon for business. “The political signal that’s gone out is basically that there’s no law anymore, so anybody can do what they want.”
Lungs of the planet
Environmentalists are also alerting the world to the consequences that a burning Amazon [often called the lungs of the planet] would have on climate change. It provides the recycling of carbon dioxide into oxygen. More than 20 percent of the world oxygen is produced in the Amazon rainforest. So, as the Amazon goes, so goes life as we know it.
The United States and the international community should do more to curb accelerating deforestation. This is a dire matter that transcends the boundaries of countries pertaining to climate and human rights.
So, what can we do?
People can help by contacting their members of Congress and demanding action. They can support organizations and non-profits that protect indigenous communities, reduce deforestation and fight back on extinction. Even with an administration that doesn't take climate control and extinction seriously, we need to protest and find ways to counter current practices that are not helping.
What is unacceptable is doing nothing.
Primary Source: National Geographic