‘Apocalyptic’ Fires Are Ravaging the World’s Largest Tropical Wetland

When Luciana Leite arrived in the Pantanal on 2 September, she thought she would be celebrating her wedding anniversary. Instead, the biologist and her husband spent their eight-day planned holiday aiding volunteers and firefighters struggling to extinguish the burning landscape.

A common destination for ecotourists, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland, home to Indigenous peoples and a high concentration of rare or endangered species, such as jaguars and giant armadillos. Small fires occur every year in the region, which sprawls over parts of western Brazil and extends into Bolivia and Paraguay.

But 2020’s fires have been unprecedented in extent and duration, researchers say. So far, 22% of the vast floodplain—around 3.2 million hectares—has succumbed to the flames, according to Renata Libonati, a remote-sensing specialist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, whose data are being used by firefighters to plan containment. That’s more than twice the

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