In Brazil, fires and deforestation threaten Amazon species’ survival

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JUDY WOODRUFF: South America’s Amazon rain
forest is home to a remarkable diversity of animal and plant life. But a record-breaking number of forest fires
and the already ongoing cutting down of trees is putting many of the rain forest’s original
inhabitants at risk. With the support of the Pulitzer Center, Amna
Nawaz and producer Mike Fritz traveled to Central Brazil to see the efforts under way
to save one of the most pristine sections of the Amazon. It is the last part of our series Brazil on
the Brink. GEORGE GEORGIADIS, Instituto Araguaia: So,
all these tracks are probably puma tracks. AMNA NAWAZ: In this corner of the Amazon Basin
in Central Brazil, signs of life are everywhere. AMNA NAWAZ: So, just by looking at the tracks
like this, you have a better sense of what actually lives in this area? GEORGE GEORGIADIS: Yes. We get a sense of what lives in this area,
of what is more abundant and what’s rare. And then we start getting a sense of, OK,
which habitat do we need to protect more of? AMNA NAWAZ: George Georgiadis is a Brazilian
scientist fighting to protect everything that lives here, animals like giant river otters,
pink dolphins, rarely seen jungle cats like jaguars, and hundreds of species of birds. So their survival is dependent on the survival
of this area? GEORGE GEORGIADIS: Their survival is dependent
on the survival of this area. AMNA NAWAZ: But climate change and the steady
destruction of the Amazon’s rain forest and the surrounding savanna, known as the Cerrado,
has made George’s mission all the more dire. GEORGE GEORGIADIS: We have lost probably half
the natural habitat of this area since 2013. Things are going fast. AMNA NAWAZ: How long do we have? What do you think? GEORGE GEORGIADIS: Oh, it’s already past time. We’re just picking up the pieces. AMNA NAWAZ: To save what they could, George
and his wife, Silvana Campello, helped the Brazilian state of Tocantins create Cantao
State Park in 1998, a nearly 350-square-mile-stretch of pristine forest and grasslands nestled
between the Araguaia and Coconut rivers. SILVANA CAMPELLO, Instituto Araguaia: We fell
in love for this place, because, as biologists, we could understand how important this place
is. AMNA NAWAZ: The couple houses visiting researchers,
who run long-term studies and use motion-activated cameras to better understand what animals
actually live here and what they need to survive. Some, like the giant otters, have even been
saved from the brink of extinction. SILVANA CAMPELLO: We have placed a camera
trap. So we’re going to go there and check the camera
trap and see if there has been any activity. AMNA NAWAZ: And tracking them, Silvana says,
has led to new discoveries about the way they live and interact with each other. SILVANA CAMPELLO: We have been finding also
interesting behavior that hasn’t been reported in science. AMNA NAWAZ: Really? SILVANA CAMPELLO: Yes. AMNA NAWAZ: Among the otters? SILVANA CAMPELLO: Among the otters. AMNA NAWAZ: Like what? SILVANA CAMPELLO: Like, for example, den sharing. A certain group of otters will occupy a den
for couple of weeks, and then they will leave, and another group will come and use the same
den. And then the group will leave, and the former
owners would come back and live in that same den. AMNA NAWAZ: It’s like an Airbnb for giant
otters. SILVANA CAMPELLO: It’s like an Airbnb for
giant otters. (LAUGHTER) AMNA NAWAZ: For all the focus on the threats
to the Amazon rain forest, Silvana says it’s the animals that are the best bioindicator
of a changing environment. Millions of insects, thousands of known plants,
fish and birds and hundreds of mammals, reptiles and amphibians call this area home. You know, one out of every 10 known species
in the entire planet lives in the Amazon. That’s plants, and insects, and animals. Scientists say new ones are actually discovered
all the time, which is why they say they’re worried that, for every acre lost, an entire
species could disappear right along with it. That’s why Silvana says it’s crucial to not
only protect this area for the animals that live here, but for humans as well. SILVANA CAMPELLO: It’s the card effect. People say that nature is like a house of
cards. If we start losing species, it’s like removing
a card from the house of cards. Eventually, there will be a point when the
planet will collapse, because everybody has a role. Everybody’s here for a purpose, the purpose
meaning the balance of the planet. THOMAS LOVEJOY, Ecologist: The single greatest
repository of the variety of life on Earth is in the Amazon. AMNA NAWAZ: Thomas Lovejoy is an ecologist
at George Mason University who’s been coming to and studying the Amazon since the 1960s. THOMAS LOVEJOY: The Amazon actually makes
this planet work. It affects the climate. It affects the hydrological cycles. And all these species that, added up, become
biological diversity, all have evolutionary histories that go back four billion years. AMNA NAWAZ: But the Amazon’s incredibly rich
biodiversity is now under assault from several different fronts. Nearly 20 percent of it has been deforested
since the 1970s, cleared out to make way for infrastructure projects, mining and agriculture. That destruction is having a devastating impact
on the ecosystem, and many of the rain forest’s original inhabitants. It’s estimated that hundreds of species in
Brazil are now facing the threat of extinction. SILVANA CAMPELLO: As we lose species, the
next generation will not miss them. But if you show them, if you bring people
to see giant otters, for example, here, or pink dolphins, if they see them, if they relate
to them, they care now. We must care now, before they go. AMNA NAWAZ: But the monumental effort to repopulate
and regrow what has already been lost in the Amazon is slowly beginning, and some of the
solutions might be found in this small storage facility in Canarana, Brazil. MAN (through translator): The muvuca comes
from 60 to 120 species of seeds that we work with. AMNA NAWAZ: It’s called muvuca, a planting
technique that uses native forest seeds to be spread over burnt or deforested land. The method was developed with input from the
Xingu indigenous tribe. BRUNA FERREIRA, Xingu Seed Network (through
translator): The importance of involving them is because they have been here. It is their call. They are holders of the knowledge of these
species. They know what will germinate well. AMNA NAWAZ: Bruna Ferreira is the manager
of the Xingu Seed Network, a cooperative between indigenous communities, local farmers and
NGOs that started in 2007. BRUNA FERREIRA (through translator): This
is the job of ants. But the seed network is the largest network
in Brazil, and nobody does work like this. AMNA NAWAZ: The hope is that the forest will
slowly regrow with stronger, more durable plants and trees. It’s all part of a larger effort using native
seeds that aims to eventually plant millions of trees. BRUNA FERREIRA (through translator): Today,
there are 600 collectors of native seeds. And the network helped to recuperate and restore
more than 5,000 hectares of degraded areas below the Xingu and Amazon rivers. AMNA NAWAZ: For some Xingu tribal members,
like Abeldo Xavante, a 21-year-old who now works for the Seed Network, regrowing the
forest is essential to preserving the past. ABELDO XAVANTE, Xingu Tribal Member (through
translator): We came from the forest, and, today, nobody else from my tribe lives in
the forest. We live in the savanna. And young people do not know the seeds, and
they no longer want to eat forest fruits and other foods from our culture. They want white man’s food, sweets and sodas. So we must rebuild the forest, so that we
can live there again. AMNA NAWAZ: There’s also a push to have local
Brazilian farmers, like Nedio Goldoni, conserve more of their land. Goldoni owns a cattle ranch outside of Canarana. About 10 years ago, in order to comply with
deforestation laws, he allowed the Xingu Seed Network to work on his property. NEDIO GOLDONI, Farmer (through translator):
We need to produce, because you have a lot of human beings who need to be fed. But, also, we have to preserve what needs
to be preserved. AMNA NAWAZ: Back in Cantao, scientist George
Georgiadis says that, even with new efforts to stop deforestation, pristine areas like
this will likely disappear. You have conceded that it will mostly be destroyed? GEORGE GEORGIADIS: It will mostly be destroyed. AMNA NAWAZ: So why even fight to save what
you can now? GEORGE GEORGIADIS: Because you have to know
the limit of what you can do. It’s like the barbarians are burning the library. You can save a couple of books and hide them
under your shirt. That’s what you can save. You have got to be optimistic and do it. If you’re like, but they’re burning the whole
library, what’s the point, then you don’t even save those two books. And then, in 1,000 years, when people learn
how to read again, there’s not going be anything. So you have to have a different attitude. AMNA NAWAZ: But Georgia and Silvana hope a
different attitude will also help save areas like Cantao and the animals that call this
remarkable place home for as long as possible. Silvana, you have been studying these animals
for years and years, and you still talk about them with, like, a sense of wonder. Does it still excite you to come out and try
to find them? SILVANA CAMPELLO: Oh, definitely. It’s like talking about somebody you love. You never lose your enthusiasm when there
is love. AMNA NAWAZ: Even all these years later? SILVANA CAMPELLO: All these years later, and
— and more. (LAUGHTER) AMNA NAWAZ: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Amna
Nawaz in Tocantins, Brazil.

 

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