Grassland replaces a large area of ​​intact primary forest in the Brazilian Protected Area

  • Satellites detected deforestation within this year’s Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area (APA), a legally protected area in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
  • Despite its status, 35% of primary (or ancient) forests were lost within the APA between 2006 and 2021, making it one of the most deforested areas of the Brazilian Amazon.
  • The APA was created in 2006 to act as a buffer for vulnerable surrounding areas, such as the Apyterewa Indigenous Territory and the huge Terra do Meio ecological station, but deforestation has extended to both.
  • The area’s deforestation is largely caused by livestock, but land grabs and mining have also increased in recent years, as invaders have encouraged the rhetoric and policies of the current government.

Satellites detected deforestation within Triunfo do Xingu this year, a supposedly legally protected patch of Amazon rainforest in the northern Brazilian state of Para.

Home to jaguars, howler monkeys, rare margins, and a source of another diversity, the protected area was established in 2006 as a reserve for sustainable use, meaning that within its borders (an area over half the size of Belgium) landowners are legally required to keep 80% of their forests intact.

However, despite this requirement, 35% of primary (or ancient) forests were lost within the Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area (APA) between 2006 and 2021 – more than 533,000 hectares (1.32 million acres), according to satellite data from University of Maryland (UMD), featured on the Global Forest Watch platform.

This makes Triunfo do Xingu APA one of the most deforested areas of the Brazilian Amazon in recent years, placing it in the top three of the list of the most deforested protected reserves in Brazil.

Satellite images show cLearn the primary rainforest inside Triunfo do Xingu environmental protection zone in 2022. Photo from April 2022, Planet Labs Inc.

The greatest amount of forest loss has occurred since the protected area was created in 2020, on nearly 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) — an area roughly the size of New York City. Although deforestation decreased in 2021, the loss that year was still nearly double the average rate between 2002 and 2021.

Deforestation in the region is largely due to livestock farming, according to a previous report in 2020. In the Amazon, farmers and ranchers use slash-and-burn techniques to clear forests for pasture. In the municipality of São Félix do Xingu, where the protected area is located, there are almost 20 times more livestock than people.

“Triunfo do Xingu APA was created to allow some kind of human activity in a sustainable way,” Larissa Amorim, a researcher at Imazon, a nongovernmental organization that monitors deforestation, told Mongabay in 2021. Absolutely. And the illegal activities that happen there end up going far beyond that.”

The Terra do Meio Ecological Station, near the Triunfo do Xingu Ecological Conservation Area, is home to ferrets (Leopardus wiedii), a small wild cat native to South and Central America.  Rhett A's photo.  Butler/Mongabay.
The Terra do Meio Ecological Station, near the Triunfo do Xingu Ecological Conservation Area, is home to ferrets (Leopardus wiedii), a small wild cat native to South and Central America. Rhett A’s photo. Butler/Mongabay.
The Xingu region is home to a variety of animals, such as the bare-tailed woolly opossum (Caluromys philander). Photo by Moisés Silva Lima via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 2.0)

Triunfo do Xingu APA was intended to protect wildlife and act as a buffer for vulnerable surrounding areas, such as the Apyterewa Indigenous Territory and the huge Terra do Meio ecological station, but deforestation has extended.

“[The Terra do Meio Ecological Station] Romulo Batista, an activist with Brazil’s Greenpeace organization, told Mongabay in 2021: “There should be no deforestation there. Instead, we are seeing rampant deforestation, which is really worrying.”

Satellite images from Planet Labs taken in October 2021 show an expansion of clearing operations in the forest surrounding the Terra do Meio ecological station in 2021.

Local sources told Mongabay that the loss of forests has also infiltrated the Abyteriwa Indigenous Region in the north-east. To the southeast, forests are being cleared in the indigenous Kayapo territory, “something we haven’t seen before,” Francisco Fonseca of the Nature Conservancy told Mongabay in 2020.

“With such weakness [Triunfo do Xingu], it became easier to access protected parks, Aboriginal lands abroad. In the end, it didn’t become the buffer it was meant to become.”

Although livestock farming remains the main cause of forest loss, the region has also emerged as a center of land grabs and illegal mining by invaders who bet on continued loosening and enforcement of environmental regulations.

“We saw a wave of land grabs,” Fonseca said. “The pattern has changed – many of these slots are now for speculation only, not for farming or pasture.”

A burnt area at Triunfo do Xingu APA in 2019. The photo was taken by Anna Ionova in September 2019 for Mongabay.

Experts say land grabbers, those who move into an area and clear forests to claim their claim, have been encouraged by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and policies. In recent years, the government has pardoned land speculators who have invaded conservation units and often use fire to clear forests on public lands for private farmland.

Protecting Triunfo do Xingu from deforestation and illegal fires has proven very difficult because it is remote and can be reached mainly by boat from the city of São Félix do Xingu. On-the-ground surveillance, control, and the ability to prosecute those who deforested and set illegal fires have been limited across Brazil, as funding for government agencies and law enforcement that operated in the Amazon has been largely eliminated under the current administration. Bolsonaro also blamed the fires on indigenous and traditional peoples.

A green rainforest covers the banks of the Rio Novo at the Tira do Mio Ecological Station.  Exlibris image via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Rio Novo at Tira do Mio Ecological Station. Exlibris image via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

In 2021, 3.75 million hectares (9.27 million acres) of primary tropical rainforest were lost across the planet, at a rate of about 10 football fields per minute. More than 40% of the primary forest loss last year occurred in Brazil, according to Global Forest Watch.

“The main motive is the complete lack of environmental policy by this government,” said Batista, an activist with Greenpeace Brazil. “People who are inclined to conquest feel bold.

“These are areas of major ecological importance and must be protected to ensure the integrity of the rainforest as a whole,” Batista added. “And that’s what we’re ultimately losing with this massive increase in deforestation.”

Liz Kimbrough Mongabay Writer. Find her on Twitter MustafaHosny Oh God, Amen

Editor’s note: This story was supported by the Places to See, the Global Forest Watch (GFW) initiative designed to quickly identify forest loss around the world and stimulate further investigation in these areas. Places to See relies on a combination of near-real-time satellite data, automated algorithms and field intelligence to identify new areas on a monthly basis. In partnership with Mongabay, GFW supports data-driven journalism by providing data and maps created by places to watch. Mongabay reserves complete editorial independence with respect to stories reported using this data.

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Agriculture, Amazon Rainforest, Biodiversity, Livestock, Pastures, Livestock, Deforestation, Environment, Fires, Wildfires, Forest Loss, Forests, Governance, Green, Habitat Loss, Indigenous Groups, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Reserves, Land grabbing, protected areas, rainforests, ranching, and tropical forests

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