LA PAZ – More than 2 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,” said professor Sandra Quiroga of Santa Cruz University.
Latin American ocelots and other wild cats such as pumas and jaguars, plus deer and llamas and smaller animals like anteaters, badgers, lizards, tapirs and rodents were victims of the fires, according to biologists investigating the damage.
Local media showed images of charred animal carcasses in the smoldering forests and birds fleeing to zones spared by the flames.
The fires, which have devastated more than 4 million hectares (10 million acres) since August, have completely destroyed the primary forest 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.