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In defense of wildlife

Biologists, veterinarians and other professionals are dedicated to rescuing, protecting and trying to provide safety and quality of life to forest animals that are impacted by the advance of human presence

Alice Martins

Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco (ET-Multi/UFPA)


The Amazon is the Brazilian biome with the largest number of animal species, home to 73% of mammal species and 80% of bird species in the country, according to the Ministry of the Environment. The richness of the fauna, even today, is not fully known, but, according to information from the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), researchers estimate that there may be around 30 million animal species.

Alligators, snakes, jaguars and other wildlife species, in general, are not part of the urban scene – with the exception of zoos and parks. However, due to the fact that many cities are surrounded by forests and rivers and the growth of these areas evolve disorderly, occasionally, wild animals end up invading the urban space, bringing risks both to their own health and to that of humans. When such things happen, what is done?

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The responsibility for rescuing these animals is shared between the municipal, state and federal spheres. Throughout the country, the Military Police plays a strategic role in this service – in Pará alone, for example, 176 animals were voluntarily delivered to the Batalhão de Polícia Ambiental [Environmental Police Battalion], and 1398 were rescued in 2022. These voluntary handovers happen when the population finds or possess a wild animal at home and deliberately decides to surrender it to the authorities - without implication of any judicial or criminal occurrence. A rescue takes place based on complaints, when an animal is in a situation of danger, whether in captivity or any other place outside its natural habitat. The penalty for illegally selling or keeping a wild animal in captivity is six months to one year in prison, in addition to a fine.

In each state, there are other institutions that offer support for the task. In Manaus, capital of Amazonas state, the Institute for Environmental Protection of Amazonas (IPAAM) carries out the activity in support of the Military Police activities. Since 2014, IPAAM has already rescued almost 5,000 animals in Manaus and surroundings – 600 only in 2022.

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Felipe Atem is one of the interns at the Institute for Environmental Protection of Amazonas - Photo: Personal archive 

Academic practice - Rescues are also a professional ambience for practice among university students. The IPAAM team is constituted by five interns (four from Biology and one from Veterinary Medicine), who have already had some experience with wild fauna and are trained at the Institute to learn how to deal with the rescue of this type of animal. Felipe Atem, a student of Biological Sciences at the Federal University of Amazonas, is one of them. He says that the opportunity has been a window for learning on several aspects, from better understanding how public management aimed at fauna works to apprehending the methods of capturing animals, and how city expansion affects the forest. “It is also interesting to observe the relationship between people and fauna and it is an opportunity to talk to the population and, of course, also teach about the importance of the animals they come across”, he observes.

The university students are the ones in charge to go out and check when IPAAM receives a complaint call at (92) 2123-6739 (Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 4 pm). "It usually happens when the animal enters a residence or when it is injured, as in cases of being run over, or birds and hawks hit by a wax line [used to fly kites], which is illegal", explains Marcelo Garcia, Fauna manager of the Institute.

IPAAM exchanges information and shares tasks, in the capital, with the Environmental Police Battalion of Amazonas, also helping, in municipalities of the interior of the state, to forward rescued animals that are no longer able to return to nature by themselves and therefore need to find a home in a zoo, for example. This is what happens, in most cases, when animals in captivity are rescued and have lost characteristics of their species natural behavior, or when orphaned offspring are found. Another situation is the case of primates that naturally live in groups and after being isolated from their place of origin, find it difficult to integrate and be accepted by a new group.

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Professionals from different specialties are dedicated to caring for and, when possible, reintroducing the animals into the nature - Photo: Lenine Martins/ Sesp-MT

Unawareness and cultural behavior contribute to illegal breeding

According to Marcelo Garcia’s point of view, from IPAAM, there is a problem of lacking deeper awareness concerning the breeding and sale of wild animals in the Amazon; in Brazil, those are considered illegal practices. "It is still very common to see someone who has a parrot or a monkey as a pet at home, not even knowing that it is not allowed", he observes. Evidence of this behavior is that, until nowadays, it is possible to easily find, including in the state capitals, animals being illegally sold at street markets, mainly birds, such as bullfinch, canary, thrush and green parakeet.

The amateur or commercial breeding of wild animals, for pet purposes, is only allowed in the country when the specimen is acquired in a breeding or commercial establishment authorized by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), or the responsible state agency. The persons interested in having the animal must also register themselves with the Secretary of Environment of their state before taking the animal to the domestic environment. Only the species listed in Ibama Ordinance No. 2489/2019, which amended the sole paragraph of Article 1 of the previous Ordinance, dated July 1998, are not considered wild, except for fish and aquatic invertebrates not listed in the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Species of Wild Flora and Fauna in Danger of Extinction (Cites) and animals exempt from control for the purposes of operationalization by Ibama, according to Annex I of this Ordinance. The list is available for consultation online. An example is the mallard and the cockatiel, which can be purchased and bred without the mandatory registration with the agency.

The Fauna manager at IPAAM believes this habit of illegally raising wild animals at home tends to change over the generations, due to the increasing ecological awareness of younger people. "Here, we noticed that young people no longer want to eat turtles, a behavior that is very common among the elderly people. There is a greater ecological awareness. Over time, with greater environmental education and knowledge about the law, the tendency is to discontinue this kind of practice", he ponders.

Guidance - When encountering a wild animal outside its natural habitat, the general recommendation is to keep one’s distance and call the Environmental Police Battalion, or the 190-emergency service, which can direct you to the competent department. Marcelo Garcia advises that, if the animal is seen from a distance and safely, it is always helpful to try to take pictures to share with the specialized team, so they can better understand in advance about the animal that will need to be rescued and better guide the person who made the contact.

Deforestation bans animals out of their habitat

Marcelo Garcia, from IPAAM, alerts to deforestation impacts on wild animals. According to him, in addition to the great loss of plants and the drastic damage to the environment, climate and human health, deforestation seriously affects the fauna.

"The forest is full of animals, ranging from insects to mammals and birds. When they do not die due to deforestation or forest fire events, they need to migrate, impacting on different environments", he reinforces. Thus, they may invade a neighboring forest and cause imbalance in the food chain there or entering the urban space.

Data from the Amazon Institute for Man and Environment (Imazon), released on the last 20th, show that in November this year, deforestation in the Amazon increased by 23% compared to the same period in 2021. Also, according to Imazon, the accumulated rate, since January this year, reached 10,286 km² deforested in the region, the worst figure for the period in 15 years.

Rescued animals get a second chance in Pará

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Veterinarian Nereston Camargo takes care of the animals with great affection and respect - Photo: Anderson Souza

Vale's Biopark, located in the municipality of Parauapebas, Pará), is one of the places that receive and rehabilitate animals rescued from nature. Those animals that are recovered, return to their habitat; the ones that have some kind of limitation or inability to return to nature, become residents of the park. Created in 1985, the space has 30 hectares of native forest and is open to visitors, where tourists can discover several species of Amazonian fauna and flora and have an immersion experience in the biome, contemplating animals such as jaguars, wild boars, hawk-eagles (harpy), among others.

From January through November 2022, the Biopark received 68 animals, of which 20 were reintroduced to nature. Approximately 360 animals are treated there, consisting in more than 70 species of birds, mammals and reptiles, including both rescued, transferred from other zoos and born in the Biopark animals.

In the Biopark's veterinary section, where visitors are not allowed, new animals are constantly arriving. Veterinarian Nereston Camargo has been working there for four years and takes care of the animals with great affection and respect. "Our main objective is that they preserve their natural behavior as much as possible, whether returning to their habitat or remaining in the park", he explains.

Nereston tells about a baby deer as an example, which was found in a rural area of Belém and taken to the Biopark. "When it arrived, it was very small and weak. We want to reintroduce it into nature, set it free inside the park area, because that is the normal life it would have. But, as it is without its mother, it needs to stay with us to be fed until the weaning period, when it will be able to be independent in the forest", explains the veterinarian.

Because they do not have a mother, regardless of the species, the veterinary team needs to find a substitute food for the offspring, such as goat's or cow's milk, provide vitamin supplementation, when necessary, and play roles that would be done by the matriarch, such as cleaning of small animals. However, everything is done with the utmost rigidity, wearing gloves and keeping a distance whenever possible, to protect both the health of the animals and the human being and not interfere in the animal's natural behavior. "If we pet them all the time, treat them like a domestic animal, a wild animal could lose its normal characteristics of how to eat, how to sleep, how to act. We have already had cases of receiving a monkey that did not know how to use its tail, because it was raised as a domestic animal, and that is very harmful for the animal, because it cannot socialize with others of the same species and it has more difficulties in surviving and reproducing", adds Camargo.

Approximation - In some cases, when an orphaned cub arrives and there is an adult female that already lives in the Biopark, of the same species, it is possible to make an approximation so that she can "adopt" the little one. This is also done and constantly monitored by the team of professionals, who gradually introduce the animal and evaluate how this interaction between the two specimens is going on. This was the case of a black-faced spider monkey, around one year old, that was approximated to a female and, over time, she started to adopt a maternal posture, taking care of the cub naturally, cleaning, protecting, staying close. "For us, it is a great happiness when this approximation works out. The objective of the Biopark is to preserve the native species of the Amazon and this coexistence between animals of the same species is fundamental to guarantee their well-being", emphasizes the veterinarian.

Ibama collects stuffed animals to help orphaned cubs

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Rescued cubs feel more peaceful and secure with a stuffed animal - Photo: Divulgação - Ibama

When the Liberal Amazon reporter was at Vale’s Biopark, in Pará, there was a newly arrived member: a baby monkey of the Bugio species (also known as guariba/howler monkey), approximately 2 months old, which Nereston Camargo cared for and bottle fed with great love. One thing that drew attention was that the little monkey did not let go of its blanket (rolled up like a bundle, which the animal hugged) or its stuffed animal. This action, according to the veterinarian, is a way of simulating the warmth that the animal would receive from its mother, in the wild: "It needs that comfort not only for the emotional aspect, but also for the warmth like an animal hug and it gets calmer, feels safer with the blanket, towel or stuffed animal", he explains.

This also happens with cubs of several other species that need nurturing when orphans are rescued, such as sloths, owls, anteaters and capybaras. Every year, Ibama, through the Wild Animal Sorting Center - (Cetas), welcomes hundreds of injured or orphaned cubs that need intensive care.

For this reason, Ibama launched in November this year (with no deadline to end) a solidarity campaign with the aim of collecting stuffed animals, towels and socks with or without a pair. The campaign is nationwide and donations can be delivered to Cetas throughout Brazil. 

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Photo: Divulgação Ibama

See, below, addresses of the Cetas by Ibama, in the Amazon, to deliver your donations of stuffed animals, towels and socks for orphaned animals

  • Rio Branco (AC): rua Hidelfonso Cordeiro, Vila Acre, 69909-808 - Tel: (68) 3211-1719
  • Macapá (AP): avenida do Pinhal n° 408, Brasil Novo, 68909-329 - / Tel: (96) 98408-4944
  • Manaus (AM): avenida 1, Distrito Industrial, 69075-830 - / Tel: (92) 3878-7100 and (92) 3878-7129
  • São Luís (MA): rua do Horto Florestal s/nº, Jardim São Cristovão 2, 65052-152 - / Tel: (98) 3244-3133 and (98) 8189-8460
  • Benevides (PA): rua João Coelho, s/nº (antiga estrada do Maratá), 68795-000 / Tel: (91) 3210-4775
  • Porto Velho (RO): avenida Governador Jorge Teixeira, nº 3559, bairro: Costa e Silva, 76803-599 - / Tel: (69) 3217-2700
  • Boa Vista (RR): rua Andrômeda, s/nº, bairro: Cidade Satélite, Cep: 69317-450 - / Tel: (95) 3625-0812.