Stretching 210,000 sq km across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland. In Brazil, it stretches across the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. The Pantanal is home to many different species of plants and animals, some of them threatened with extinction.Fueled by a toxic combination of searing temperatures and high winds, the Brazilian Pantanal was hit by unprecedented fires that engulfed at least 2.4 million hectares across the region in October and November 2019.Then in January, just two months after the first bout and during what is supposed to be the rainy season, fires erupted once again. Both times, fires invaded well into Pantanal Matogrossense National Park.Local sources say the fires were primarily the result of burning by farmers that spread out of control over an El Niño-dried landscape. Firefighters were caught largely unprepared for the unseasonal fires, as the state normally disassembles its response forces in December and enters a phase of planning for the next fire season. After burning for over a month, the fires were extinguished when rains finally fell in mid-February. PORTO JOFRE, Brazil – Only fragile wisps of freshly-sprouted grass dotted the charred plot of farmland in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands. Standing amid the ash and burnt vegetation, Eledilson Nunes de Souza lifted his hand, marking a line halfway up his chest. “Usually, at this time of year, it’s all flooded here – the water is up to here,” the towering 43-year-old said. “But this year, the rains didn’t come.” Just a few weeks earlier, Nunes de Souza was standing in that same field, helping a brigade of firefighters combat the wild flames that were fast approaching the Panthera Brasil conservation farm, where he has worked for the last 11 years. “It was fire that was out of control,” he said, squinting against the baking late afternoon sun. “We did everything possible to fight it, but it still advanced.” Eledilson Nunes de Souza inspects a burned area in the Pantanal. Image by Ana Ionova for Mongabay. The farm – a nonprofit that runs jaguar conservation projects – is nestled in the remote outpost of Porto Jofre, in the Poconé municipality of Brazil’s western Mato Grosso state. Here, the Transpantaneira Highway comes to a sudden halt, interrupted by a river. Beyond, there are no major roads and the only way to explore deeper into the region is by boat. This area, some 250 km south of the state capital of Cuiaba, is part of the world’s largest tropical wetlands, or the Pantanal. Each year, between December and March, heavy rains drench this region, flooding about 80 percent of the land. The marshes of the Pantanal sprawl nearly 210,000 square km across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. In Brazil, it stretches across the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. The Pantanal region is home to a staggering number of plant and animal species, some of which – like the cobalt-blue hyacinth macaw – are threatened with extinction. On a recent visit to the Porto Jofre area, toucans darted from tree to tree and kaleidoscopes of bright orange butterflies swirled through the air. Deeper into the wetlands, dozens of yacare caimans (Caiman yacare) lay sprawled on the banks of marshes. A jaguar and her cub lingered on the side of the dirt road providing the area’s only access.