As the planet warms, the anteaters of Brazil are facing an increased risk of extinction

  • The number of anteaters in Brazil has decreased by 30% over 26 years
  • Rising temperatures, fires, droughts and habitat loss are leading to degradation
  • Extinction threats to many animals are increasing as the planet warms

AQUIDAWANA, Brazil, Nov 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As their GPS beeps, a team of wildlife rehabilitation experts approach a group of trees and monitor their quarry: a giant young ant eater, sleeping on a hot morning With her luxurious tail. head.

It survived a blaze that swept through Brazil’s vast southern Pantanal region in 2020, killing an estimated 17 million animals and burning nearly a quarter of the wetlands and drought in the grassland region, which is the size of New York state.

Rescued alone on the side of a highway, at an age when she was still clinging to her mother’s back, the tiny anteater has since been cared for by Orphans of Fires, a project in Mato Grosso do Sul state that hopes to help her return permanently to the wild.

Started in Aquidauana by conservationists in the wake of the fires, it now cares for 15 rescued giant anteaters.

“There are heaps of termites everywhere,” veterinarian Maria Helena Matsoni Baldini points out—a sign that the sleeping little orphan is defending herself, even though she was too young to learn foraging skills from her mother.

In 2020, more than 50 giant anteaters injured or displaced by the Pantanal fires were captured through government rescue projects — a jump from 13 the previous year, according to the Mato Grosso do Sul Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (CRAS).

As fires grow in size and frequency, and as the Earth warms and gets hotter and drier, the already-threatened ants—which also live in the Amazon rainforest—are under increasing pressure.

Biologists say land confiscations and the expansion of farming, ranching and mining have reduced their habitats in the Amazon and Brazilian savannahs, and heat and fires are just another danger.

Flávia Miranda, research coordinator at the Anteater Institute, which runs the Orphan Rescue Project, believes highly specialized animals are particularly at risk, not least because they can struggle with extreme temperatures.

“If the temperatures go up or down too much, they will suffer a lot,” she predicted.

The latest official population estimate showed that the number of giant anteaters in Brazil actually declined by 30% between 1989 and 2015.

Hottest, killer

Global temperatures have risen by more than 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times and are now rapidly approaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming mark that scientists fear will herald a transition to the costlier and more deadly impacts of climate change.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, an agreement between nearly 200 countries, set a goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) while “pursuing efforts” for 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But as the use of fossil fuels continues to rise globally, despite pledges to cut emissions, 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming could be exceeded within a decade, leading climate scientists say.

They fear it could trigger irreversible environmental tipping points, from rising sea levels as polar ice melts to rising temperatures as methane – a powerful driver of warming – escapes from thawing permafrost.

Global warming is also expected to cause more extreme weather, crop failure, species extinction, migration, and personal and financial losses to many people around the planet.

Brazil’s forests, savannas, and wetlands contain the world’s richest mixture of flora and fauna. But many of these species are increasingly at risk of extinction as their habitat disappears and climate effects worsen.

These potential losses represent a danger not only to species and ecosystems themselves but to the millions of people who depend on them for everything from food to reliable rainfall and innovative medicines.

“Most people are completely oblivious to how biology supports their lives,” said biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who coined the term “biodiversity.” last year before his death.

said the scientist, who has worked much of his life in the Brazilian Amazon.

hungry orphans

At the Orphans of Fire Rescue Center in rural Aquidauana, young giant anteaters are rehabilitated to press a chain fence at feeding time, waiting to eat a mixture of soy, egg and cow plasma protein so they can extract ants and termites on their own.

Their investigative tongues—up to 60 cm (23 in) long—leave long queues of thick saliva on caregivers’ clothes and skin.

“It has to be sticky for the ants to stick to,” Mazzoni, the vet, noted.

With a limited, high-protein diet of insects in the wild, the animals’ metabolism evolved to be relatively slow, with an average body temperature of about 34°C, low for mammals.

Anteaters forage in the Pantanal mainly in the open fields, and hot days there mean many people are on the move for fewer hours of the day and often need to scavenge for shade and rest, which is becoming increasingly difficult as more trees are burned or cut down.

The Pantanal’s average temperature has risen by two degrees Celsius since 1980, higher than the global average, according to Brazilian research institutions and data from the US National Centers for Environmental Information.

A 2020 study in Nature estimates it is one of the regions in South America with the highest proportion of species at risk from climate change.

Frequent and frequent extreme weather events leave many stressed species with little time to recover between crises, said Andreas Maier, a Brazilian biodiversity researcher at the University of Cape Town.

Increasing losses of forests in the Amazon, to the north, are also affecting the water supply in the Pantanal.

Normally, water vapor rises from the humid Amazon rainforest and heads toward southern South America, a phenomenon known as “flying rivers.”

But as the forest disappears, the rivers slow down.

According to data from the nonprofit MapBiomas, the area of ​​the Pantanal covered in water during the height of the monsoon floods shrank by 29% between 1988 and 2018, the last year the area was inundated.

worsening dehydration

For three centuries, ranching was the most common agricultural activity in the vast wetlands. But when it dries up, more land is converted to grow soybeans.

Zelka Campos, of the Pantanal branch of the state-owned Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), said livestock farming was also becoming more destructive as extensive farms were divided up among heirs or sold on smaller plots.

With this change, Campos said, more animals are being raised per hectare, tree areas are being converted into pastures and native grass is replaced with exotic varieties.

According to EMBRAPA, 95% of the areas of biomes in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul are on private land.

The Orphans of Fire is located on one of those private farms, owned by João Ildefonso Pinheiro Murano, who manages 2,400 head of cattle there and runs a hotel.

He points out that drought is part of life in the Pantanal. But after a series of drought years, even he admits, “I’ve never seen a drought like this.”

Usually, by the second half of the year, tourists would visit a pond called Poção on his property, photograph caimans – crocodile cousins ​​- and birds and watch the animals stop for a drink.

But this year, the water that was once high in the pond has disappeared, leaving behind sand and bones.

“There are no signs of predation. They are dying of starvation,” said Manuela Pinho, the organization “Fire Biology Orphans,” pointing to the rotting carcass of a caimin near a leftover pond of thick green water.

In the middle of the pond, one last hungry caiman remains, its vertebrae can be easily seen through its back. He is almost completely still except for the occasional blink of his eyes.

Originally posted at:

(Reporting by André Capet Fabio) Editing by Laurie Goering. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Go to

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leave a Comment