Bolivia wildfire threatens world's largest wetland
July 7, 2010 - AFP

ASUNCION — A huge wildfire in Bolivia threatened Wednesday parts of the Pantanal, the world's largest wetland which is a popular tourist attraction and home to thousands of species of plants and animals.

The environmental group Guyra Paraguay warned that the uncontrolled blaze was approaching the The Three Giants Biological Station, an important research center in the wetland, which is bounded by vast arid forests and savannahs.

"The fire is moving towards the Rio Negro area to the border between Paraguay and Bolivia," the group said. "It is 15 kilometers (9.4 miles) wide and is now just 26 kilometers north of The Three Giants in the Pantanal."

A similar fire emanating from Bolivia last year struck the Paraguayan part of the Pantanal, a vast natural area of nearly 200,000 square kilometers (75,000 square miles), which also extends into Bolivia and Brazil.

A local police officer in the small Pantanal border town of Bahia Negra, Roberto Segovia, told AFP the glow of the current fire was visible from Paraguay already.

The blaze raged amid a prolonged drought which has brought misery to farmers in northern Paraguay.

The Pantanal is considered one of world's richest area of biodiversity, home to caimans, jaguars, giant otters, tapirs and other animals, and is visited by an estimated 200,000 tourists a year.

Last year, environmentalists established a group called "SOS Pantanal" in Brazil, hoping to slow the creeping development in the region for farming or pasture land.

At the current rate, the Brazilian Pantanal will disappear in 45 years, according to a 2006 report by Conservation International.