More than 2 million animals perish in Bolivia wildfires

Photo: AFP

More than two million wild animals, including jaguars, pumas and llamas, have perished in weeks of wildfires that devastated huge swaths of Bolivian forest and grassland, environmental experts said Wednesday.

The fires devastated the Chiquitania tropical savanna in the east of the country.

"We have consulted the biologists of Chiquitania and we have exceeded the estimate of more than 2.3 million missing animals in many protected areas," Professor Sandra Quiroga of Santa Cruz University told AFP.

Latin American ocelots, and other wild cats like pumas and jaguars, as well as deer, llamas - and smaller forest animals like anteaters, badgers, lizards, tapirs and rodents - were victims of the fires, according to biologists investigating the scale of the damage.

Local media showed images of charred animal carcasses in the smouldering forests and birds fleeing to zones spared by the flames.

The fires, which have devastated more than four million hectares (10 million acres) since August, has completely destroyed the "primary forest" extending over 100 hectares in the Tucavaca reserve in the eastern Santa Cruz department.

"The forest is totally charred and the damage is irreversible. It will never get back to normal," said Quiroga.

The eastern department of Santa Cruz has been the hardest hit of Bolivia's nine departments since the fires began in May and intensified in late August

Bolivia in August enlisted special firefighting planes, a Supertanker Boeing 747 and a Russian Ilyushin, as well as helicopters, 5,000 firefighters, soldiers and police but the fires have still not been extinguished.

Environmentalists blame laws enacted under leftist President Evo Morales, who has encouraged burning of forest and pasture land to expand agricultural production.

The government attributes the blazes to dry weather and flame-fanning winds.

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