A fire has been burning since mid-July in the remote wetlands of west-central Brazil, leaving in its wake a vast charred desolation bigger than New York City.
A team of veterinarians, biologists and local guides arrived in late August to prowl the bumpy dirt road known as the Trans-Pantanal Highway in pick-up trucks, looking to save what injured animals they could.
Jaguars were wandering the blackened wasteland, they said, starving or going thirsty, with paws burned to the bone, lungs blackened by smoke. They saw bodies of alligator-like caiman, jaws frozen in silent screams, the last act of creatures desperate to cool off before being consumed by flames.
This enormous fire is one of thousands of blazes sweeping the Brazilian Pantanal – the world’s largest wetland – this year, in what climate scientists fear could become a new normal, echoing the rise in climate-driven fires from California to Australia.
The Pantanal is smaller and less-known than its famous cousin, the Amazon jungle. But the region’s normally abundant waters and strategic location – sandwiched between the rainforest, Brazil’s vast grasslands and Paraguay’s dry forests – make it a magnet for animals.