When he saw the jaguar on the São Lourenço river banks, Sunday morning (13), tourism entrepreneur Daniel Moura, 49, let out a small cry of relief in the air overloaded with smoke: "Thanks to God!".
The day before, he had spent the whole day on the boat looking for jaguars. Only one appeared, at the end of the expedition, and was walking with a limp. "Before the fire, we would already see a jaguar on the first curve of the river," he said.
Owner of an inn in Porto Jofre, Moura depends on visitors interested in observing jaguars at Encontro das Águas State Park. The region has one of the highest feline densities in the world, and, to the delight of tourists, mostly foreigners, the felines become accustomed to human presence.
This successful experience, however, is being consumed by the flames. As of Saturday (12), 67,000 of the unit's 108,000 hectares had already burned - 62% of the total, according to figures from the Mato Grosso Fire Department.
"The Pantanal is one of the jaguar's strongholds in the world. Over the past ten years, with the good news of jaguar tourism and the protection it provides, we believed that the likelihood of conservation would improve," says biologist Peter Crawshaw Júnior, who has studied the cat for more than four decades.
Still, with no end in sight, this year's fire has already consumed at least 2.3 million hectares of the Pantanal or 16% of its area. It is the greatest destruction since the beginning of the historical series, which started in 1999. The figures are from Ibama.
Translated by Kiratiana Freelon