Fires in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands are ravaging the biodiversity region, consuming an area the size of London in the past 10 days, burning some animals alive and sending others fleeing.
Hell in the world's largest tropical wetlands is the latest environmental disaster facing Brazil, following a mysterious oil spill affecting northeast beaches and August fires that ravaged the Amazon region.
The Associated Press (AP) newspaper reported that the Pantanal, which stretches across parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, is a popular ecotourism destination considered one of the best places to see wildlife in South America.
During the wet season, the rivers overflow their banks and make most of the region accessible only by boat and plane. In the dry season, wildlife enthusiasts flock to see jaguars lounging on riverbanks, as well as macaws, giant river otters, and alligators.
According to AP, this year's dry season has been much longer than usual.
"Any spark in this area in these days of high temperatures and very low humidity will cause fires like the ones we have seen in recent days," said Júlio Cesar Sampaio, head of the Cerrado Pantanal program at WWF Brazil. And he added: "Only the rain will reduce the risk of fire."
Rescue efforts so far have found burned remains of alligators, iguanas and snakes.
SOS Pantanal, a local group, reported that hyacinth macaws, a vulnerable species, lost much of their main food source as coconut and palm trees caught fire, and blue and yellow birds have been seen flying aimlessly. .
Between January and November, the wetlands area had 516 percent more fires than in the same period last year, according to data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research.
While there have been more fires in the Amazon, they have spread over an area roughly half the size of the United States.
Fires in the Pantanal at this time of year are abnormal because heavy rains usually begin in October.
With little precipitation, high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds, the fires were rapidly spreading through the low vegetation, authorities said.
The Mato Grosso do Sul state government said in a press release that the fires were "at a rate never before recorded" and that the causes were both dry conditions and "criminal activity."
Firefighters said the cause was likely local people setting fires to clear the land of vegetation, a practice also attributed to many of the Amazon fires.
Such burning is particularly common among ranchers, who use fire instead of expensive equipment to prepare pasture.
The fires in the Pantanal this year have been overshadowed by the period of months of fires in the Amazon region.
The governor of Mato Grosso do Sul declared a state of emergency after more than 10,000 square kilometers were burned in the previous five weeks in the Amazon part of the state.