Deforestation Increases Pressure on South America’s Elusive Chaco Peccary | Wildlife

JThe Chaco peccary is so elusive that scientists thought it was extinct until it was ‘discovered’ in 1975. Today, only 3,000 remain in the inhospitable forests and lagoons of the Gran Chaco region, which spans northern Argentina, Paraguay and southern Bolivia, and includes more of 50 different ecosystems.

Micaela Camino, who works with the indigenous Wichí and Criollo communities to protect animals and their land rights in Argentina, knows how difficult they can be to find. She only saw one Chaco peccary, or Chimileroin 13 years since she created her NGO, Quimilero Projectbut fell in love with the critically endangered mammal, which looks like a strange cross between a boar and a hedgehog.

michaela way
Micaela Camino, who won a 2022 Whitley Award for her work to protect the Chaco peccary. Photography: Whitley Awards

“I was told the Chaco peccary was extinct outside of protected areas when I started,” Camino says. “So when we found it, I thought it was great. We’ve set up a watch to find out more in one of the most isolated parts of the Dry Chaco. But then the loggers started coming.

The Gran Chaco, the second largest forest in South America after the Amazon, is one of the most deforested places on the planet. Every month more than 133 square miles are lost, cleared for vast soybean farms and cattle ranches that export to markets in the US, China and Europe – including UK supermarkets, according to a seal Guardian’s investigation in 2019. However, the loss is largely ignored internationally, receiving little money for conservation or celebrity attention compared to the Amazon.

In the area where Camino works, land clearing was accelerated by Argentina’s economic collapse in 2001. Tree loss highlighted by Global Forest Watch shows the extent of the damage over the past 20 years. The region is home to charismatic species such as the maned wolf, giant armadillo and jabiru, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

At the current rate of deforestation, the mosaic of life in the Gran Chaco could collapse entirely. The loss of the Chaco peccary would be guaranteed this time. Unlike the Amazon, there are few academic studies of tipping points and the decreasing ability of the forest to sustain itself as the climate changes and land is cleared, but the people who live here see the changes .

Deforestation of the Gran Chaco in Argentina.
More than 133 square miles of the Gran Chaco are lost each month due to deforestation. Photo: Nicolas Villalobos/Greenpeace

“The Chaco peccary cannot survive with such rapid progress in deforestation. It does not exist anywhere else. Locally, the animal is a good flagship. Jaguars and pumas are charismatic, but nobody really likes these animals in the forest,” Camino explains.

More than 140 countries, including Argentina and Paraguay, signed an international agreement at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in 2021 to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. However, economic realities have complicated the situation. Argentina’s economy collapses again, with annual inflation rate in 2022 reached its highest level in 30 yearsand the country desperately needs dollars, which can be earned by trading commodities such as soybeans and beef.

In Paraguay, the success of Mennonite communities turned the country into one of the largest beef producers in the world, largely at the expense of the forest, nicknamed “green hell” by Canada’s first settlers.

“The Gran Chaco has been at a crossroads for a long time,” says Gastón Gordillo, professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia. “The 2007 forestry law in Argentina succeeded in slowing down some of the deforestation, but it also created the paradox by establishing legitimate means of destroying the forest.

Before the Covid pandemic, civil society organizations joined together to launch the 2030 initiative to protect what remains of the Gran Chaco in Argentina, the part most affected by land clearing. They called for a change in the region’s economic model, urging local and national governments to move away from extraction, and pushed for greater compliance with forestry legislation. However, a new highway in Paraguay seems likely to further open the region to livestock farming.

“The agribusiness sector in Argentina is very powerful,” says Gordillo. “We are going through a deep economic crisis. There’s a lot of anxiety about what’s going to happen. The government’s main concern right now is getting US dollars, and agrifood exports are the main source of that. This means that there is a strong incentive to continue.

“The dichotomy is clear. Either you continue to destroy the forests and the environment, or you don’t. But it’s an unequal confrontation, unfortunately.

A Chaco peccary and its offspring.
Camino hopes that the Chaco peccary can become a flagship species to protect the region. Photography: Andrew Taber / Whitley Prize 2020

For the Chaco peccary, research indicates that there are only 30 years left to save the species, with current deforestation rates meaning all of its habitat outside protected areas will be gone by 2051.

Camino’s conservation efforts, for which she won a 2022 Whitley Award, will focus on priority areas to save the mammal and help local people resist corporate land grabs and stay on their indigenous lands. She hopes the mammal can become a flagship species to protect the region.

“The only way to save the Chaco peccary is to protect the forest. It represents a unique evolutionary path. It’s an umbrella species to work with the whole ecosystem,” she says.

find more age of extinction cover hereand follow the biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and patrick greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

Leave a Comment