- Every month, Mongabay brings you a new episode of Chasing Deforestation, our digital series that explores the world’s most threatened forests through satellite data and reporters on the ground.
- In this episode, reporter Ana Ionova takes us to Autazes, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon that is experiencing a spike in deforestation.
- Stretches of land are being razed for pasture for herds of domestic water buffaloes.
- The deforestation is now encroaching into protected reserves that are home to the Mura Indigenous group, with devastating environmental and social consequences.
Autazes in the heart of Brazil’s Amazonas state is a municipality that’s six times the size of Rio de Janeiro. This corner of the rainforest is so remote that the easiest way to reach and move around the area is along the rivers that feed into the Amazon River.
Despite its remoteness, the area has had a long history of natural resource extraction, beginning with a gold rush in the 18th century, followed by a rubber boom during the Industrial Revolution, which drove a new wave of colonization of the region.
The wealth generated from this extraction led to the expansion of trade routes, including the construction of a railway line. But after years of prosperity, and the advent of synthetic rubber, the Brazilian rubber industry slowly began to die, giving rise to a search for new commodities. Today, the region has is a major industrial and agricultural center.
Even though roads play a key role in reaching and bringing resources to previously isolated places, such as Autazes, they also open up the forest to illegal activities.
Thanks to Global Forest Watch’s (GFW) forest monitoring and alert system, Mongabay contributor Ana Ionova became aware of a spike in deforestation in the region. Between January and November 2021, more than 48,600 deforestation alerts had been recorded from Autazes’s primary forest, according to satellite data from the University of Maryland.
Ionova traveled to the area and found shocking levels of devastation in the middle of the Trincheira Indigenous Reserve, a protected territory that’s supposed to be off-limits to outsiders. The reserve, which spans 1,835 hectares (4,534 acres), is home to the Indigenous Mura people, who survive by fishing, hunting and growing subsistence crops.
Deforestation in the area is driven by livestock ranching. Ranchers clear the forest to transform the land into pasture for their water buffaloes, which are more profitable than cows and better suited to the floodplain forests of Autazes.
According to local sources, buffalo ranching has had devastating consequences on the area, both environmentally and socially. Indigenous leaders say the buffaloes pollute the water, invade and fragment Indigenous territories, and destroy their subsistence crops.
Ionova spoke with Indigenous leaders to understand the extent of the damage. Watch the video to find out what she learned.
You can read her full investigation here.
Chasing Deforestation is hosted by Romi Castagnino, our associate digital editor and conservation scientist. Special thanks to reporter Ana Ionova for providing the footage.
Banner image of a domestic water buffalo by Ana Ionova/Mongabay.