Enormous Wetlands Continue to Burn, Causing Incalculable Losses to Biodiversity

Feb 20, 2022 | Argentina, Parks, Rewilding

Fire crews from Rewilding Argentina, the Province of Corrientes, Argentine National Parks and other organizations are battling out-of-control fires affecting wildlife and important ecosystems in Iberá Park, one of South America’s largest wetlands.

Corrientes, Argentina — Following an extensive regional drought, fires are sweeping across Northeast Argentina’s Corrientes province, at an enormous loss to communities and the natural world. As of February 19, 10% of the province has burned, including 60% of ​​Iberá National Park. At risk are the wetlands, grasslands and forests of Iberá whose unique biodiversity includes endangered species such as the Pampas deer, maned wolf and the strange-tailed tyrant.

Prolonged droughts and high temperatures related to climate change, combined with intentional burning practices gone out of control, precipitated the massive fires. Six of the park gateways have suffered significant infrastructure damage and lost perimeter fences essential to maintaining domestic livestock outside the park. On Sunday, February 20, another outbreak originated in the gateway of Laguna Iberá, and is currently threatening additional areas of the park.

On San Alonso Island, where Rewilding Argentina is reintroducing the giant otter and the jaguar, the foundation’s teams have been working alongside provincial and national fire crews to combat a front advancing from the north. Preparations are underway to be able to quickly evacuate the animals in the reintroduction program if it becomes necessary.

“We are experiencing the effects of the climate crisis firsthand,” says Sofía Heinonen, Executive Director of Rewilding Argentina. “We’re seeing once humid patches of forest and wetlands burn from the ground up because the vegetation previously underwater was exposed by the prolonged droughts and has become combustible material. Recovery is possible, but we will need time and the presence of Iberá’s key fauna species to be successful in the restoration that is to come.”

Fire is a natural and essential element to maintain the richness of the subtropical grasslands that are home to the Iberá Wetlands. However, the current fires are abnormal in number, size and intensity. In addition to causing wildlife injuries and fatalities, these massive fires will reduce food availability for surviving wildlife. The situation poses a prolonged challenge for wild animals that will have to compete with domestic livestock that will enter the parklands in search of pasture and water.

So far, most of the reintroduced animals have been found alive and in good condition. Their survival suggests that their adaptation to the environment and to the sudden changes that may occur has been successful. They will now be able to participate in ecosystem restoration through their ecological roles. Individual animals being prepared for release, including red-and-green macaws and bare-faced curassow, have been transferred to the Aguará Conservation Center in Corrientes. 

The Iberá Wetlands are one of the last well-preserved large subtropical grasslands of South America. According to Kristine Tompkins, president of partner organization Tompkins Conservation, which helped create the 1.8-million-acre park through land donations, “This is a terrible blow for Argentina and the world. Iberá National Park not only ensures a healthy environment for extensive human and wildlife communities, it has become a pillar of the local economy. After this crisis, rewilding will be an even more essential tool in helping the wetlands become more resilient in the face of environmental crises like this one.”

We thank all who have helped in the recovery efforts and those who have communicated their support and solidarity for the wildlife and natural ecosystems of Corrientes.

For more information and information on how to donate, see rewildingargentina.org/donaciones_ibera