More than 2 million animals die in forest fires in Bolivia

More than 2 million animals die in forest fires in Bolivia

More than two million wild animals, including jaguars, pumas and llamas, have perished in weeks of forest fires that devastated large areas of Bolivian forests and grasslands, environmental experts said Wednesday.

The fires devastated the tropical savanna of Chiquitania in the east of the country.

"We have consulted the biologists of Chiquitania and have exceeded the estimate of more than 2.3 million missing animals in many protected areas," Professor Sandra Quiroga of the University of Santa Cruz told AFP.

Latin American ocelots and other wild cats such as pumas and jaguars, as well as deer, llamas and smaller forest animals such as anteaters, badgers, lizards, tapirs and rodents, were victims of the fires, according to biologists who investigated the scale of the damage .

Local media showed images of corpses of charred animals in the smoking forests and birds fleeing to areas saved by the flames.

The fires, which have devastated more than four million hectares (10 million acres) since August, have completely destroyed the "primary forest" that spans more than 100 hectares in the Tucavaca reserve in the eastern department of Santa Cruz.

"The forest is fully charred and the damage is irreversible. It will never return to normal," Quiroga said.

The eastern department of Santa Cruz has been the most affected of the nine departments of Bolivia since the fires began in May and intensified at the end of August.

In August, Bolivia enlisted special fire planes, a Supertanker Boeing 747 and a Russian Ilyushin, as well as helicopters, 5,000 firefighters, soldiers and police, but the fires have not yet been extinguished.

Environmentalists blame the laws enacted under leftist president Evo Morales, who has encouraged the burning of forests and grasslands to expand agricultural production.

The government attributes the fires to dry weather and winds that fan the flames.
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