HomeWeatherWildfires in Argentina’s wetlands causing ‘incalculable’ loss to biodiversity

Wildfires in Argentina’s wetlands causing ‘incalculable’ loss to biodiversity

In the wake of a major drought, enormous fires are sweeping across northeastern Argentina causing “incalculable” losses to the wetlands, grasslands and forests of the Ibera National Park, 40 per cent of which has been burnt.

The national park has recently reintroduced jaguars 70 years after the local populations went extinct, and it is also home to rare pampas deer, the maned wolf and the strange-tailed tyrant – a bird listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

According to conservationists, the prolonged droughts in the region have been exacerbated by the climate crisis in recent years, while local burning practices have also contributed to the fires raging out of control.

The Ibera Wetlands are one of the last well-preserved large subtropical grasslands of South America, and recent rewilding efforts have helped rebuild a haven for plants and animals.

In the area where conservation group Rewilding Argentina is reintroducing the giant otter and the jaguars, the foundation’s teams have been working alongside provincial and national fire crews to combat fires advancing from the north.

They said preparations were underway to be able to quickly evacuate the animals in the reintroduction program if necessary.

An armadillo killed by the fires in the national park

(Rewilding Argentina)

“We are experiencing the effects of the climate crisis firsthand,” said Sofia Heinonen, executive director of Rewilding Argentina.

“We’re seeing once humid patches of forest and wetlands burn from the ground up because the vegetation previously underwater was exposed by the prolonged droughts and has become combustible material. Recovery is possible, but we will need time and the presence of Ibera’s key fauna species to be successful in the restoration that is to come.”

The team said that fires in the region remain a “natural and essential element” to maintain the richness of the grasslands, but warned that the current fires were abnormal in number, size and intensity.

They said as well as causing wildlife injuries and fatalities, the enormous blazes will reduce food availability for surviving wildlife.

The teams have been monitoring the reintroduced species as closely as possible and said that so far, “most of the reintroduced animals have been found alive and in good condition”.

Nonetheless, they said their survival highlighted their resilience and they would now become part of the restoration process.

Kristine Tompkins, president of Tompkins Conservation, which helped create the 1.8-million-acre park through land donations, said: “This is a terrible blow for Argentina and the world.

“Ibers National Park not only ensures a healthy environment for extensive human and wildlife communities, it has become a pillar of the local economy.

“After this crisis, rewilding will be an even more essential tool in helping the wetlands become more resilient in the face of environmental crises like this one.”

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