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Story Publication logo November 12, 2021

Pantanal: Brazil’s Last Great Wildlife Refuge has an Uncertain Future (Portuguese)

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This project portrays an unfolding water crisis in the Serra do Norte, an area crucial for rainfall...

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This story excerpt was translated from Portuguese. To read the original story in full, visit National Geographic Brasil. Our Rainforest Journalism Fund website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.


From Porto Jofre, Poconé and Cáceres, in Mato Grosso | The Pantanal is a biome that originated from a river, the Paraguay. Therefore, if there is something wrong with the river, the whole biome breaks down. The situation of this waterway in Cáceres, 220 km from the capital of Mato Grosso, is showing signs of an emergency. On the Marechal Rondon bridge, the scene is catastrophic for the largest wetland in the world, of about 195.7 km2, part of one of the largest hydrological systems, the Paraná/Paraguay Basin. With irregular rainfall for three years, researchers warn about what could happen if nothing is done.

The bridge's support beams can be seen for the first time since its construction in 1965. There, the small aluminum boat barely navigates between numerous sandbanks. For most of its length, the once gigantic Paraguay does not cover the knees of those trying to cross it. A dust storm — something increasingly common in the region — silences a group barbecuing in the middle of the river. As if mocking the taming of the waters, the men quickly return to the barbecue as soon as the wind disappears.


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A firefighter shines a flashlight on a another firefighter
Firefighters fight a fire in the Pantanal. Image by Juliana Arini. Brazil, 2021.
Dead animals on the side of the road
Images of dead animals are increasingly common in the Pantanal. Image by Juliana Arini. Brazil, 2021.
A fire on the side of the highway
Fire consumes the Pantanal near km 35 of the Transpantaneira highway, in August 2021. Image by Juliana Arini. Brazil, 2021.
A man sits on a boat in a dock area
Lourenço Pereira Leite is a traditional fisherman, born on the banks of the Sapetuba River, in a riverside community in the Pantanal.  "It was the worst fishing season of my 50 years on the river. I've never seen such a severe drought," he said. Image by Juliana Arini. Brazil, 2021.
A man sits in a lawn chair
"There was a drought like this, when I was a child, I remember well. My father had to make a water hole for the cattle, otherwise everything would die. And the animals of the Pantanal ended up drinking there too," says Seu Tutu, 87, one of the oldest farmers in the Transpantaneira region in Poconé (MT). Image by Juliana Arini. Brazil, 2021.
A man stands between two boats on a river
The fisherman Edésio de Oliveira, a member of the colony Z8, in Porto Jofre, in Mato Grosso, is witness to the environmental disaster that was the construction of the UHE Manso. "The river didn't fill anymore, and then the fish ran out. When there's water, there's fish, it goes up the river, it comes from the bays," he says. Image by Juliana Arini. Brazil, 2021.
Tourists have a barbecue on the river in a motorboat
Tourists have a barbecue practically in the middle of the Paraguay River. Image by Rogerio Florentino. Brazil, 2021.
A dead animal skeleton
Coati killed in a fire in the Pantanal, in September 2021. Research estimated that in the fires of 2020, more than 17 million vertebrates died in the biome. Image by Juliana Arini. Brazil, 2021.
Vets try and save a cow that has sustained fire injuries
Veterinarians from the Disaster Animal Rescue Group rescue a calf covered by fire injuries in Poconé (MT). Image by Juliana Arini. Brazil, 2021.
A man in hazmat tries to save a anaconda snake
A brigadier tries to rescue an anaconda victim of the fire in the Encontro das Águas State Park, in Mato Grosso, in September 2021. Image by Juliana Arini. Brazil, 2021.
A plane flies over the the fires to try and control them
A plane tries to control the flames of the fire at the Encontro das Águas State Park, in Mato Grosso, in September 2021. Image by Rogerio Florentino. Brazil, 2021.
The fire advances through dry areas of a Brazilian state park
A fire advances through the parched landscape of the Encontro das Águas State Park, in Mato Grosso. Image by Rogerio Florentino. Brazil, 2021.
The sun sets
The sun sets in the Pantanal Matogrossense. Researchers and local people fear that the drought that has hit the biome in the last three years is here to stay and defend adaptation measures to the new climatic conditions. Image by Rogerio Florentino. Brazil, 2021.

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