Recent fires in the Amazon rainforests affected not only its inhabitants but also the climate – these forests, after all, are dubbed the “lungs of the world” for being the largest ones on earth and home to 10% of all animal species.

As it burned at a record rate, concerned experts pointed out what possibly happened to animals during the fires and what this could mean to the planet.

Bad news for small creatures

Dr Claudio Sillero, professor of conservation biology at the University of Oxford, expressed his concern about smaller creatures residing in the forest as he believed that “they don’t stand a hope in hell” – including their offspring.

“Different groups of animals will fare differently,” Sillero told BBC in August 2019. “But we really need to worry [about] amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. They live in microhabitats, and if these microhabitats get hit by fire then they will disappear completely, and these animals will die.”

Nothing, no one is adapted to fire

William Magnusson, a researcher specialising in biodiversity monitoring at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA), told National Geographic in August 2019 that the incident’s impact on the animals will come in two phases: one immediate and one long term.

He explained that the reason why the rainforest is so rich and diverse is because it doesn’t usually burn. When fires happen naturally, they just occur in a small scale and burn low to the ground.

“In the Amazon, nothing is adapted to fire. A growing number of manmade fires have plagued the Amazon in recent years, imperilling the ecosystem. The rainforest is not built for fire,” he said.

Immediate impact on animals

Mazeika Sullivan, associate professor at Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, said that the incident took a “massive toll on wildlife in the short term”.

“You’ll have immediate winners and immediate losers,” Sullivan told National Geographic. “In a system that isn’t adapted to fire, you’ll have a lot more losers than you will in other landscapes.”

Did you know?

The Amazon rainforest was not the only forest burning!

Numerous reports have revealed that forests in Malaysia and Indonesia were also burning – with the fire in Indonesia having already destroyed 800,000 hectares of its rainforest in September, blanketing the islands in thick toxic smoke that turned the sky red.

No luck for aquatic animals

Animals in large bodies of water could be safe in the short term, but those residing in rivers or creeks are in big trouble.

“Fires burn right over [in smaller streams],” Sullivan explained. “Water-dwelling amphibians, which need to stay partially above water in order to breathe, would be in harm’s way. Fire could also change water chemistry to the point that it isn’t sustainable for life in the short term.”


Magnusson admitted that they don’t know enough about the range of most of the animals in the Amazon so they can’t reveal the exact species that will be threatened or more likely to go extinct after the fires.

Carlos César Durigan, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Brazil, however, pointed out that there are a few species of concern – such as Milton’s titi, a monkey discovered in 2011, and Mura’s saddleback tamarin, another monkey discovered recently.

What happens in the long term?

“Longer-term effects are likely to be more catastrophic,” Sullivan warned.

“The entire ecosystem of the burning sections of rainforest will be altered. For example, the dense canopy of the Amazon rainforest largely blocks sunlight from reaching the ground. Fire opens up the canopy at a stroke, bringing in light and fundamentally changing the energy flow of the entire ecosystem. This can have cascading effects on the entire food chain.”

How to help

1. DONATE – You can support organizations dealing with the fires’ aftermath or those protecting rainforests. You can also donate to local Brazilian groups that aim to influence public policies on environmental preservation and indigenous rights.

2. SPREAD AWARENESS – If you can’t donate, you can always get involved for free. Simply sharing news about the Amazon rainforest and the struggles of its inhabitants following the fires could help spread awareness and therefore inspire others to take action. Signing petitions can also help as they may encourage authorities to investigate the common sources of fires and to find ways to prevent them.

3. CONSIDER WHAT YOU EAT – Many of the fires in rainforests around the world have been lit on purpose – specifically to clear trees for cattle ranching and crops (such as soybeans) that are usually used as cattle feed. Studies reveal that a plant-based diet can fight climate change and prevent deforestation as it reduces one’s “ecological footprint”. Researchers at the University of Oxford say that ditching meat and dairy reduces one’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%, leading them to conclude that a plant-based diet is the “single biggest thing” an individual can do to lessen their impact on the planet.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s December 2019 issue.

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