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Fires in the Pantanal disproportionately affected jaguars

Fires burned down 80% of the jaguar’s habitat in 2020

Pedro Ferreira do Amaral / Getty Images

The fires that burned nearly a third of the Pantanal in 2020 had severe impacts on biodiversity, and the jaguar (Panthera onca), the largest cat in the Americas, was disproportionately affected. The biggest fires occurred in the regions with the highest jaguar population density and destroyed 80% of their habitat. The result was that about 740 of the animals (roughly 45% of the total) were affected in the biome, which is home to the second largest population of jaguars in the world. Supervised by ecologist Paulo Inácio Prado of the University of São Paulo (USP) and veterinarian Ronaldo Morato of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBIO), Alan de Barros analyzed the consequences of fires that occurred in the Pantanal between 2005 and 2020 and found that the fires that spread across the biome two years ago consumed the largest area occupied by jaguars (Communications Biology, October 13). In addition to directly injuring or killing the big cats, fires in the short term also lead to starvation by killing animals that jaguars prey on and vegetation they use for shelter or when hunting. The felines have been suffering from rainfall changes for some time, forcing them to move over longer distances. According to the scientists, more intense and frequent fires could decrease the resilience of jaguar populations in the biome.