Brazil’s Pantanal needs careful management

Updated 12 September 2014

Brazil’s Pantanal needs careful management

The Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands, stretches across western Brazil and into Bolivia and Paraguay and is a fragile “ecological fantasy land” in need of careful management.
A dozen rivers flood some 80 percent of the area from the start of the rainy season in November, coursing though a region which is a magnet for intrepid tourists — including those who love to fish.
Visitors are primarily lured by the chance to see exotic animals in their natural habitat, but ecologists urge delicate stewardship of a region awarded UNESCO biosphere reserve status in 2000.
“If we want there to be jaguars in 50 or 100 years then we must preserve the Pantanal,” says Douglas Trent, an American who has spent 30 years nurturing conservation projects in the area.
At 5:30 a.m. the sun is just up as Trent begins his day as chief researcher with the “Bichos do Pantanal” or “Pantanal animals” project, navigating hundreds of kilometers on the Paraguay River.
He documents fauna and tracks the movements of jaguar, king of the American jungle, the apex predator in a Pantanal region covering some 210,000 square kilometers.
Sprawled lazily on the sand, their mouths open, are a group of Pantanal caiman, reptiles related to alligators and crocodiles. Nearby, a green iguana scales a tree, enjoying the region’s luxuriant riverside vegetation.
The area boats 463 species of bird — including the Jabiru stork which can grow to 1.5 meters (five feet) — as well as 263 kinds of fish and more than 2,000 plants.
The emblematic jaguar is threatened with extinction, but sightings have recently been on the increase around the Brazilian municipality of Caceres, in Mato Grosso state near the Bolivian border.
Caceres is known for its freshwater fishing, each June it attracts some 250,000 people to a championship which the Guinness Book of Records recognizes as the world’s biggest.
But fishing is strictly limited to preserve stocks.
“In the late 1990s people were catching tons of fish. Today it’s one per person,” says local environmental affairs secretary Jorge Amedi.
Trent, a 57-year-old environmental scientist arrived in the region in 1980 armed with plans to develop green tourism. One day, as a friendly gesture, a local resident gave him a tooth from a jaguar which he had hunted.
“I realized that if the local population are not aware of their natural riches and don’t benefit economically from them then they won’t look after them,” he explained.
He made his neighbor a proposal: “If I help set you up in eco-tourism would you stop killing jaguars?“
He took his plans to local villages, then joined Brazilian sustainable development specialist Jussara Utsch in documenting fauna. Just a few days ago a jaguar pair were seen near the river engaging in mating rituals.
The Pantanal jaguar, with its intense yellow-eyed gaze, can weigh up to 200 kilos (440 lb) and is fearsome, although attacks on humans are rare. It belongs to the Panthera genus of leopards and lions.
Joao Pires de Souza suffered one such attack six months ago.
“The jaguar had just killed a caiman and must have thought I wanted his prey. He came right at me with a ferocious roar. I plucked up courage and roared back,” he said.
“When he jumped at me I pushed an arm into its mouth. Had I tried to turn tail I’d be dead.”
Pet dog Brasao saved his life, distracting the assailant long enough for other workers to come to the rescue, although De Souza needed two rounds of reconstructive surgery.
“It’s a handsome but evil creature,” says Silvio Francisco Cardoso, 72, who keeps a machete handy just in case at his log residence near the river.
He recalled how a bold jaguar once brazenly pilfered his lunch from his table, saying: “He stares at me from across the river — he considers this his territory.”
Brazil banned jaguar hunting in 1979 and hunting in general is forbidden in the Pantanal.
Trent’s project has logged 51 jaguars around Caceres, a healthy total for a notoriously solitary species requiring wide open spaces and well preserved vegetation and fauna to prosper.
The World Wildlife Fund says protecting the species will go a long way toward doing the same for the Pantanal as a whole.
Brazil says the region retains some 85 percent of its natural vegetation but warns fishing and agriculture, infrastructure projects, deforestation and forest fires all pose a threat.


Muslim hotel worker wins compensation over alcohol-chocolate swap

Updated 25 September 2020

Muslim hotel worker wins compensation over alcohol-chocolate swap

  • Man was told by managers at five-star hotel that they did not wish to offend him by giving him the bottle of alcohol
  • Tribunal ruled that claim of harassment linked to religion or beliefs was legitimate one

LONDON: A man has successfully sued his employer for religious harassment after he was given a box of chocolates as a raffle prize instead of an expensive bottle of Cognac.
Zakaria Kioua, who does not drink alcohol as a practicing Muslim, was told by managers at the five-star Lainston House hotel in the south of England that they did not wish to offend him by giving him the bottle of alcohol, saying it would have been like offering nuts to a person with a nut allergy.
But Kioua, 37, said his faith was “not an illness” and he felt humiliated and targeted because of his religious beliefs.
The Cognac was a raffle prize at a staff party held in January 2017. But Kioua, who trained as a vet in Algeria before moving to the UK and worked as a linen porter at the hotel, was given “cheap” chocolates instead after one of his colleagues said he did not drink alcohol, British media reported.
After resigning from his position, Kioua launched claims against the hotel in April 2019. An employment tribunal in Southampton handed down its judgement this week, ruling that the claim of harassment linked to religion or beliefs was a legitimate one.
“A nut allergy is an illness, a life-threatening illness. It is not an acceptable point of comparison. It minimizes the importance of Mr. Kioua’s beliefs and practices,” the tribunal said.
“The point is not that (the swap) was well-intentioned. The point is that it should not have been said, just as the decision should not have been made to change Mr. Kioua’s prize,” it added.
“Both are on the grounds of his religion and neither should have happened; both are offensive and caused him distress.”
Kioua was awarded £2,000 ($2,545) to be paid by Lainston House for “injury to feelings” plus interest, The Times newspaper reported.