We’re on the ground to help animals affected by Amazon wildfires

September 07 2019

We're currently in Brazil, assessing how we can support animals impacted by the devastating Amazon wildfires.

Written by João Gonçalves, Communications Manager in World Animal Protection's Brazil office.

Day one – Rio Branco, Friday, August 30

Our team arrived in Rio Branco, the capital of Acre state, around 1 am. Our team includes myself, Moira Ansolch, a veterinarian Disaster Liaison Officer (DLO), and Fernando Costa, a safety DLO.

The day started with a team operations and logistics meeting to plan next steps and the approach with local authorities and partners. I also took the time to reach some people that I know in the area. I talked with a Brazilian journalist who works as a correspondent for CBS Network. She spent a week around Rio Branco and left the city one day before we arrived. She told me the situation was much worse last week, but since Saturday the city was getting some rain that helped with the air humidity and lowered the burns. She also gave me some contacts of local press and logistics supporters. 

In the afternoon, we had our first official meeting with the local authorities of Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). It is a federal institution responsible for implementing laws against deforestation, and responsible for fauna conservation and management. We were joined in the meeting by the IBAMA state representative, the technical director, the fire department coordinator and Elaine Oliveira, Chief Executive of Centro de. Triagem de Animais Silvestres (CETAS) –the only state centre that receives wild animals injured by the fires.

Elaine told us that the situation has become worse since the end of July, and anteaters, sloths and snakes are the main animals received. She told me that she hasn't accounted for all animals received yet, but in addition to those already mentioned hawks and owls are also very common.

Back to the hotel, we had an informal meeting with the state Civil Defense Commander. We talked about a possible follow-up rescue action on Sunday.

Our partner agency alerted us to two baby sloths that have been recovered from the burn area. Thanks to your support, animals like these sloth babies can continue to be cared for until they are rehabilitated back into the wild. Photo: World Animal Protection / Noelly Castro

Day two – Rio Branco, Saturday, August 31

Today, Noelly Castro, photographer, joined our team in Rio Branco, capital of Acre state, in the Brazilian Amazon.

Early in the morning, she and I went out to explore the outskirts of the city of Rio Branco and look for consequences of the Amazon fires in the urban area of the city. Between August 23-25 alone, the city's fire department recorded 220 fires.

Just 10 kilometers from the hotel, located in downtown Rio Branco, we find outbreaks of recent burns among many areas already opened by local cattle ranchers. The amount of cattle near the city impressed us and we even found a pig grazing in a recent burned area.

In the afternoon, we were hosted by the CETAS Chief Executive, Elaine Oliveira. Today, they have recovered approximately 70 animals. Many are victims of urban accidents such as car crashing and electric shocks, and some are abandoned. CETAS also has a lot of birds, like parrots and macaws, different types of primates, some mammals, like tapirs and wild pigs, and even a jaguar.

The centre also receives animal victims from the fires. Normally, she receives around 20 per month. During the dry season, this number can easily reach 300 – overloading the centre's activities far beyond its capacity. The center has not yet counted the number of animals received during the 2019 dry season, as it expects the drought to intensify in September and October. Among the animals received, she highlighted two baby sloths that were rescued from a burned area about 15 days ago. The suspicion is that the mother escaped the fire and left the babies behind.

Day three – Rio Branco, Sunday, September 1

In the morning, the team drove to Sena Madureira city to explore the fire impact on this main road of Acre state. We didn't find any active fire areas or injured animals. Mid-morning, the state Civil Defense Commander invited us to be on duty at the local fire department and to attend a fire call.  It was a little bit far away from the city, and it took us around 30 minutes to get there.

Once we got there, there was an area of the forest burning. The call was made by the farm neighbor, João Esteves Neto, who was afraid the fire would enter his property. His property has around 10 hectares and he raises pigs, chickens, fishes and a head of cattle. He was trying to contain the fire with the help of friends and family. Once the three fire department arrived, they soon began to act to contain the fire.

João said that for the last 10 days they had been fighting against the fire in different parts of his property. He explained that there are several monkeys, capybaras and ducks living in the area: "It's been two days since the fire came to this forest, but we are fighting against the fire in other parts of the farm for 10 days now. If you go into the woods tomorrow, you'll be able to see many dead animals. Some of them cannot run away from the fire. Yesterday, the boys found a burnt snake. I am also afraid for the birds; there is a parrot's nest inside of some trees here. If you see there are some looking from the edge to their nest. Everything is going to die here!".

Jhonatan Freita, a firefighter says: "I have been a military firefighter for six years. Every year, during the dry season is the same thing. As you see, here is a secondary forest area that has burned down almost all of it. I am happy that we were able to preserve this piece here and prevent the fire from spreading to another property. We often see animals running from the fire, we take some of them and take them to the centre. It's quite common to see them running in the opposite direction of the fire."

From João's farm, the fire department was sent out to other fire zones in the neighborhood. Because it was a residential area, the fire was burning the backyard of some houses. People from one of these houses started to remove some domestic animals and our vet went there to check. The house was full of domestic animals – we could count 6 dogs, 4 cats and 1 rabbit. Our Disaster Liaison Officer (DLO), Moira Ansolch, and the safety DLO, Fernando Costa, helped the owners of the house to remove the animals to their car that was parked away from the fire zone.

After the animals were safe, a man came to us with a snake that he rescued from another burnt area close to us. Our vet took the snake and we delivered the animal to CETAS for an appropriate treatment.

Day four – Rio Branco, Monday, September 2

In the morning, we went to the Rio Branco Fire Department to meet the state Civil Defense coordinator. Colonel James Gomes introduced us to the monitoring room, where they follow the state fire zones in real time. He said 98% of the fires are caused by human action, and only 2% come from natural causes such as lightning and the sun. According to him, the dry season increases the burning in the Amazon, due to four variables: high temperatures, lack of rain, low humidity and strong winds.

During the meeting, our team assessed the needs of the local Civil Defense. Today, they have only five men to handle the entire state of Acre. They do not have any animal rescue training and there is no specific material for it either. Just after the meeting, we moved to the headquarters of the State Veterinarian Council, where we also assessed how they could support our work in the area.

After lunch, we went back to the wildlife centre, CETAS, to check on the snake that we brought here yesterday. Our vet met the CETAS vet, Claudio Andrade, and helped him to examine the snake. The animal is doing fine and will be released in the following days. According to our vet, the snake is very healthy, and it is amazing that she had no major burns caused by the fire from which she was rescued.

To end the day, we visited the local non-governmental organisation, Resgatanimal, that works with dogs and cats. We were told that they were taking care of domestic animals that were affected with respiratory problems caused by the fires. Resgatanimal's representative, Emilia Dantas, told us that the house currently has 45 dogs and 20 cats, being the only one of its kind in Rio Branco. Even with little financial resources, they are treating the animals with veterinarians and making them available for adoption.​

Day five – Rio Branco and Porto Velho, Tuesday, September 3

We left Rio Branco early in the morning heading to Porto Velho, state capital of Rondonia. Porto Velho will be the second area where we will be assessing the situation of animals affected by the fires in the Brazilian Amazon. The distance between both cities is around 520 kilometers, but because of road conditions, it took us around nine hours of driving from one city to another. 

We crossed a lot of farms with clear areas for cattle ranching and some recent zones of burns. But we haven´t seen any active fire zones and to our relief, a quick but heavy rain fell that eased the heat of 35 degrees.

Day six and seven – Porto Velho, September 4-5

We spent the last two days in the city of Porto Velho. The situation in Porto Velho is quite different, as the city doesn't have an active CETAS (wildlife centre). In Rio Branco, the CETAS is a public centre managed by the Environment Ministry. In Porto Velho, there is one private CETAS that is not receiving animals. It was built as an environmental compensation action for a large hydroelectric plant built in Rondonia, and it just keeps animals impacted by the dam.

On the afternoon of the first day, we drove about 100 kilometers by car around the city. We spotted many burned areas, remnant forests and grazing lands, however we saw no areas of active fire or animals in danger.

In the town, we had several meetings with local authorities, including the state fire department, and the environmental police. They are all working on the fire zones on different levels and we've been told that if they find dead and injured animals, they don't rescue them because there is no place to deliver the animals for treatment.

Update

Following our initial assessment, we are continuing to work with local authorities and partners to ensure all rescued animals get the care they need.

We are working closely with local state animal rescue centre CETAS to ensure all rescued animals get the care they need. And we’re providing animal handling equipment and training to the Civil Defence Firefighters to help them rescue animals caught in the burn zones.

Watch this space for more updates from the field. Click here to make a donation and support our ongoing disaster management work so that we can continue to be there for the animals that need us the most.

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