Elephant Sanctuary in Brazil
A group of international NGOs has announced it is opening the first elephant sanctuary in Latin America. The facility is located on a 1100-hectare farm (2700 acres) in the state of Mato Grosso.
The sanctuary will host up to 50 elephants. The park, entirely financed by international NGOs, will not be open for visitors. As at other sanctuaries, cameras will allow everyone from children to scientists to observe the animals while letting them live in peace. The first elephants to call the sanctuary home will be three females who retired from the circus. The territory chosen for the sanctuary is considered ideal by experts, as it is isolated by natural barriers – mountains and valleys surround the property.
Before being placed in the facility, the elephants will undergo a rehabilitation process under veterinary supervision to regain confidence. The animals usually suffer the consequences of years of physical abuse, especially in the case of former circus elephants. In the case of zoo elephants, the abuse is usually from a total lack of stimulation.
The animals will not be bred, and will be separated according to their species and gender. The first two elephants were placed in the sanctuary this week — 44-year-old Maia and 42-year-old Guida, both rescued in 2010 from a circus in Bahia. [Pictured above] Both have been living on a farm located in Minas Gerais. The Brazilian elephant sanctuary was created and will be run by Scott Blais, who is the co-founder of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
Figuring out what to do with aging elephants has become increasingly difficult as their natural habitats come under attack on the two continents they come from. In Asia, the biggest threat is dwindling land. The animals are often illegally hunted for their ivory tusks in Africa, where a large-scale survey dubbed the Great Elephant Census found an alarming 30 percent drop in elephant populations between 2007 and 2014.
Elephant experts say the animals would not survive if they were simply returned to the wild after living in captivity. The gap is slowly being filled by a handful of sanctuaries in countries like the United States, Thailand, and Malaysia. Living in a sanctuary can make a big difference for the highly intelligent animals that have a wide range of personalities.
For Scott Blais and his wife, getting to this point was a long road. After years of planning, they moved to Brazil more than two years ago. Scott is an American who drew on his experience co-founding a similar sanctuary in Tennessee in 1995. He is now the CEO of US-based Global Sanctuary for Elephants. Along with local partners, he set out to create the sanctuary on a piece of donated land in Chapada dos Guimaraes in the northern part of Mato Grosso, a state known for varied vegetation and a tropical climate.
In another victory for preservation, the government has issued 24 arrest warrants as part of a three-year criminal investigation into the country’s largest illegal logging operation. Authorities believe this one illegal logging organization is responsible for the deforestation of about 10,000 hectares of Amazon jungle forest during a two-year period.
The total illegally deforested area translates into US$94 million worth of environmental damages, according to IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agency. According to investigators, the illegal crime syndicate operated as a business through the use of sophisticated technology and fake or “shell” companies to launder the money generated from the illegal logging operation.
Authorities are still searching for Antonio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, who is accused of leading the criminal operation’s financial division. Antonio directed a complex web of illegal land purchasing schemes that involved falsifying information for custody documents, in order to obtain official papers to allow the group to cut swaths of forest.
Antonio is currently wanted by Brazilian police for illegal land grabbing, criminal conspiracy, illegal logging, and profit concealment, owing the government about US$37 million in fines for crimes related to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
Brazil’s federal police carried out their investigation, which was called Operation Flying Rivers. During the investigation, law enforcement officials discovered new methods of deforestation that logged the forest from beneath the tree tops, which left a vegetation cover that eluded the government’s satellite surveillance.
“The police found that among the gang members were geo-processing experts with satellite knowledge who would review data from the National Space Research Institute (INPE) and plan their logging activities,” said Luciano Evaristo, head of Environmental Protection at IBAMA. During Brazilian police raids in the states of Pará and Mato Grosso, authorities discovered loggers living in slave-like conditions.
The illegal buying and selling of land in the Amazon region is a deeply rooted practice in Brazil. Annual forest clearing in the Amazon has declined by roughly 75 percent from its mid-2000s levels, although it has increased in the past year. Forest destruction, which is largely caused by land-clearing for cattle and other farming, is a major source of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
In 2012, Brazil enacted a law to protect forests and help establish clearer rules for the ranchers, soy growers, and other producers who pushed into the Amazon rainforest and other sensitive regions in recent decades.
In another positive story from Brazil’s remote lands, farmer Ismael Freitas, like his father before him, spends long days cultivating fruit in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest on land that is not officially his own. One of hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers in Brazil who don’t own a title deed, Ismael lived in fear of being displaced by wealthy developers.
The 30-year-old also worried about his financial stability because lacking a title deed proving the land was his, he was unable to get a bank loan without being able to offer his land as collateral.
However, everything changed six months ago, when Ismael was given a title deed to his farm under a government program to improve land rights in the Amazon.“When I got title I started to see a future and new horizons,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from his wooden house in northern Brazil.
“Having the title now brings me security – it’s a good feeling to know the land is yours,” Ismael says. His farm is 100 kms (62 miles) from Manaus in the state of Amazonas. “My plan is to cultivate melons and bananas on a larger scale,” he said.
Almost half the land in Brazil is owned by only 1 percent of the population, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Inequality in property ownership, a lack of access to land for the poor, and insecure tenure are fueling deforestation, poverty, migration, and conflict, USAID believes.
In an effort to address some of these problems, the Brazilian government launched a program in 2009 to give small-scale farmers title deeds. Since then, about 20,000 title deeds have been issued to farmers in the Amazon under the Legal Land Program, said Larissa Nunes, a Brazilian government spokeswoman. “Some families wait for decades for the opportunity to regularize their areas and finally become owners of their lands,” Nunes said.
By the end of 2015, nearly 12 million hectares of land had been titled under the program, according to Brazilian government data. Freitas said it took three years to get formal ownership of the land that was passed to him by his father. First, government officials had to visit his community to meet residents, then collect documents and take measurements and photographs of the land.
Most of the land that farmers in his village had been cultivating were public areas, Ismael said. These “vacant lands,” which essentially do not belong to anyone, account for more than 20 percent of Brazil’s total territory.
[Research for this article comes from the websites of Stabroek News, teleSUR, plus55, and mcdowell news.]