Firefighters are battling wildfires in Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, home to jaguars, giant anteaters, and giant river otters.

Close to 32,000 hectares have already been destroyed by the fires in Mato Grosso do Sul, local media report.

Climate experts say this year’s wildfire season has started earlier and is more intense than in previous years. Firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the flames have been hampered by high winds over the weekend. Additionally, the region has experienced less rain than usual, making it easier for the fires to spread.

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the number of fires from the start of the year to June 9 is 935% higher than in the same period last year. This rise is particularly worrying as the high season for wildfires is not due to start until July.

Mato Grosso do Sul state authorities declared an environmental state of emergency in April, citing low rainfall levels creating ideal conditions for wildfires. The number of fires so far in 2024 is the highest since 2020, the worst year on record for Pantanal fires, when about 30% of the Pantanal was consumed by fire.

Between January 1 and June 9, 2023, there were 127 fires reported. In the same period this year, the number surged to 1,315. Vinicius Silgueiro from the local NGO Instituto Centro da Vida told Reuters news agency that “what is most worrying is that even in the rainy season, we had this increase in fires.” Mr. Silgueiro warned that the situation would probably worsen at the peak of the dry season in August and September.

Last week, Brazil’s federal government announced it would work together with the state governments of Mato Grosso do Sul and the Amazon region to combat wildfires. Environment Minister Marina Silva emphasized the importance of responding to fires more quickly while also enhancing preventive measures.

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