What Is Happening to the Animals in the Amazon?

The longer the Amazon burns, the more concern grows over the scope of the local and global impact. To be sure, the Amazon plays a major role in pulling planet-warming greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, and without it, experts say climate change will likely speed up. But it is also home to countless ecosystems—some of which are thriving, others of which are endangered and a few of which are emerging. Deforestation is effectively endangering and eliminating the animals of the Amazon.

While scientists can't definitively know which species are at risk until they've assessed the distribution of the blaze and the remaining animal populations, they already know that some animals native to the Amazon are not adapted to cope with such massive fires.

"When we lose forests, we lose related wildlife," Director of Brazil's Wildlife Conservation Society, Carlos Durigan, wrote in an email to Newsweek.

"In regions most affected by the fire, we observe that animals are being killed ... some bigger and faster ones (like jaguars, pumas, peccaries, tapirs, deer, many birds, etc) run away, but small ones like frogs, turtles, snakes, lizards, small mammals and even some bigger ones like anteaters, sloths and some monkeys have more difficulty running and [end up burning]."

Remains of a snake
Remains of a snake lay on the ground at an area affected by forest fires in Otuquis National Park, in the Pantanal ecoregion of Bolivia, southeast of the Amazon basin, on August 27, 2019. AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images

According to Mazeika Sullivan, an associate professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University, sometimes it is a matter of whether the animals have "evolved with fire in their evolutionary backdrop." If they haven't, it's harder for them to survive, compared to other species that have adapted to ecosystems where fires are commonplace, he reportedly told CNN. The North American black-backed woodpecker, for example, is a fire-adapted bird that preys on wood-boring beetles who colonize recently burned habitats.

Sullivan noted that already endangered species, such as the white-cheeked spider monkey, Milton's titi monkey and Mura's saddleback tamarin, could be impacted more—even the ones that are fast enough to initially escape the fire.

The jaguar, for instance, preys on turtles, caimans, deer, peccaries, capybaras and tapirs, according to National Geographic. But those species are at risk of habitat loss due to the fires, and that loss impacts the jaguar's food supply.

"Losing forests and related ecosystems means losing opportunities to know how complex and how rich the regional biodiversity is, and how to develop the region economically in a more sustainable way," Durigan said.

It's not just the animals. The loss of Amazonian ecosystems could also threaten the capability of plants and trees to regenerate. Approximately 80 percent of trees in the Amazon rainforest are dependent on animals for their regeneration through seed dispersal, Sullivan told CNN.

"When you take away those animals, all of a sudden you are taking away the ability of those trees to regenerate," he said.