Responsible tourism on Brazil wildlife vacations

Brazil wears its challenges on its sleeve. Its president is zealous about removing rainforest – and the indigenous people who live there – for cattle farming and plantations. The palatial mansions in Copacabana neighbour favelas. Cities like São Paulo and Brasilia leak into rainforests, while wealthy cruise ship passengers sail into cities with slum dwellers without spending a single real locally. You’ll be familiar with these issues just from reading the news headlines, but you won’t really understand them until you go on a wildlife vacation to Brazil that’ll help you understand the complexities of this country.

Amazon deforestation

The statistics that explain the scale and importance of the Amazon are staggering. It represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests, and is the biggest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world. The Amazon region stretches across nine nations, with 60 percent sitting within Brazil.
The Amazon rainforest is seriously under threat from deforestation, with cattle farming to blame for around 80 percent of all deforestation in Brazil. Illegal logging plays its part, too. Powerfully, the go-ahead comes from the top, with President Jair Bolsonaro green-lighting the razing of swathes of Amazon rainforest under the guise of economic development.
Guy Marks, from our tailor made vacation specialists Tribes Travel, explains:
 “The biggest issue in Brazil is that they’re cutting down the rainforest faster than you can blink. It’s just a massive environmental issue. If you fly into Manaus during the daytime, you get to the edge of the forest and you just see hundreds of miles of forest burning. There’s a very distinct line between the soya fields and the forest – and the line is moving on a daily basis. So it’s fairly staggering.”

The extinction of tribes

Brazil is home to more isolated and uncontacted tribes than any other country in the world. FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, is a government body responsible for monitoring and protecting indigenous territories, and preventing the invasion of this land by outsiders. FUNAI claims that there are 67 tribes which remain uncontacted. Many of these have less than 100 people left, so they are likely to disappear completely. Some tribes are aware of outsiders and have had minimal contact, but choose to remain isolated, while others are cut off entirely.

The greatest threat posed by encroachment on their land is disease. Entire populations have been killed by common colds – which the indigenous population has no resistance to – and malaria-bearing mosquitoes are now present in areas where they previously did not exist. As well as that, their land is being rapidly repossessed by loggers, farmers and miners – both legally and illegally. Enormous hydroelectric dams also cause widespread flooding of territories.

The logistics of policing the Amazon are hard to comprehend, and while there is such high financial value in its natural resources, spending a fortune to protect it poses something of a conflict of interests to the Brazilian government.

Protecting the Pantanal

While the Amazon steals all the attention, the open marshes of the Pantanal quietly gets on with being the most biodiverse place in South America. Few people live here, but the ones that do are ranchers in a tug of war with the tides that waterlog the land for one half of the year and are home to jaguars during the other half. The best responsible vacations support the farmers, funding schemes that provide them with income that champions coexistence with wildlife – like learning to guide or steer boat trips.

Responsible tourism tips

Learn a little Portuguese, and pick up words from your tour leader and local guides as you go along. You’ll meet lots of expert guides, and have different drivers on a wildlife vacation. You’ll also meet local people who don’t work in the tourism industry, including ranch owners and cowboys in the Pantanal. Being able to speak some Portuguese is a great icebreaker and also shows respect for your hosts. Brazil may be an expensive country to live and travel in, but minimum wage – paid to most service staff – is low. Be sure to tip; 10 percent is customary and will be much appreciated by hotel and restaurant employees, as well as street vendors, parking assistants and so on. Always listen to your guide and remember that you are viewing wild animals in their habitats. They rule the roost here. Do not attempt to touch or feed them, don’t use flash photography, and don’t ask guides to take you closer to wild creatures than is safe. It’s not fair on the animal or the guide. While you’re on safari, stick to the ‘bring out what you take in’ rule, leaving no litter or manmade products behind. Travel with a responsible wildlife operator in the Amazon and Pantanal that will ensure that boats drive at prescribed speeds to help protect river banks. Guided walking safaris will stay on the trail, as deviating can cause erosion and other environmentally harmful impacts. Shopping locally and using local amenities are just as important on a Brazil wildlife vacation as any other. This helps to support local people and ensure they have a stake in maintaining the sensitive environments they live in for future generations.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Tambako The Jaguar] [Deforestation: Ibama] [Extinction of tribes: Gleilson Miranda] [Pantanal rancher: dany13]