The Amazon is a vital carbon store that helps slow the rate of global climate change. Although 60% of the Amazon basin is in Brazil, the world’s largest surviving area of tropical forest is also shared by eight other South American nations: Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana and French Guiana.
Throughout August of this year, the world’s press was filled with alarming reports on the fires that have raged in the forests of Brazil. Each year, the dry season sees some wildfires occurring naturally in South America’s forests, but international organizations agree that the overwhelming majority of the fires observed in the Amazon basin are started deliberately, as part of efforts to deforest land for farming and cattle ranching.
According to the non-governmental environmental organization Greenpeace and Brazil’s own National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which in addition to its other activities monitors climate and deforestation, between January and August 2019 the number of fires burning in the country’s Amazon region increased by 145% compared to the same period in 2018. Brazil’s controversial president Jair Bolsonaro’s response to the release of his own government’s deforestation figures was to fire the INPE director, Mr. Ricardo Galvao.
This scenario appears even more alarming when one considers how in recent years Brazil’s record on conservation had improved enormously, transforming South America’s largest country into a model for protection of both the continent’s natural heritage and its many forest-dwelling ethnic groups. Before Bolsonaro assumed power in January 2019, Brazil had set aside large tracts of forest, amounting to 12.5% of the nation’s total land area and 26.4% of its Amazon basin, for the 450,000 indigenous people who constitute just 0.25% of the population.
But since coming to power, Bolsonaro has been dismissive of efforts to conserve the forests that environmentalists describe as “the world’s lungs”. He has stated publicly his belief that indigenous peoples have been awarded too much land in the past, and that they should be “integrated” into modern society, and conservationists have accused Brazil’s outspoken leader of encouraging loggers, farmers and ranchers to clear land. Clearly, while Brazil still has laws designed to reduce deforestation, those laws are no longer being enforced as they were in previous years.
What is often forgotten by news organizations reporting on the plight of Brazil’s forests is the fact that fires are burning throughout the Amazon, and illegal loggers and land invaders are active across the continent.
In Bolivia, president Evo Morales, who has long claimed to be a protector of Pachamama, or Mother Earth, is now being accused of turning a blind eye to the burning of forests within his land-locked nation, with fires reportedly up by 100% this year. And in Peru, where Amazon forests constitute around 60% of national territory, to the issue of land speculation is added the threat posed by illegal logging and gold mining activities, as the government of Martín Vizcarra becomes the object of increasing internal and external criticism over its record on environmental degradation.
At Tambopata Ecolodge, by continuing to implement our ecotourism-based conservation model and bring travelers from all over the world to witness the wonders of nature, we are working to ensure that our own small corner of southeastern Peru’s Amazon basin will be around for future generations to enjoy (you can learn more about our conservation work by watching this video). And we remain hopeful that pioneering projects like Tambopata Ecolodge, which we established in 1991, will serve as a conservation model by showing local people and national governments alike how responsible ecotourism can support conservation initiatives, generating income by leaving tropical forests to thrive as they have for millions of years.