As Amazon forest falls, snakes take to city

Brazil Amazon Crackdown
This barge carrying illegally cut timber, seen in Belem, Brazil, on March 2, was confiscated by officials seeking to curb deforestation.Renato Chalu / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Snakes — including one 10-foot anaconda — are increasingly invading the eastern Amazon's largest city, driven from the rain forest by destruction of their natural habitat, the government's environmental protection agency said Tuesday.

The agency, known as Ibama, has been called out to capture 21 snakes this year in Belem, a sprawling metropolis of 1.5 million people at the mouth of the Amazon River, Ibama press officer Luciana Almeida said by telephone.

In normal years, Ibama gets no more than one or two calls a month, she said.

No poisonous snakes were reported, she said. But the captured snakes included a 10-foot anaconda, usually a jungle recluse.

"People are scared," she said. "Imagine finding a 3-meter snake in your plumbing."

Almeida said Ibama believes the increase in snakes is a result of rising deforestation by loggers, ranchers and developers in the Amazon jungle surrounding the Belem urban area.

"Deforestation destroys their habitat, so they come to the city," she said.

Ibama has a veterinary team that captures the snakes and takes them to a zoo or to an outlying park to release them, Almeida said.

The clearing of Brazil's Amazon rain forest jumped in the final months of 2007, spurred by heavy market demand for corn, soy and cattle. The 36 areas being targeted registered the highest rates of deforestation, environmental officials said.

Ibama estimates as much as 2,700 square miles of rain forest was cleared from August through December, meaning that Brazil could lose 5,800 square miles of jungle by August if the rate continues.

That would represent a sharp increase from the 4,300 square miles that was cut down and burned from August 2006 through July of last year.

Although preliminary calculations can only prove that 1,287 square miles of rain forest were cleared from August through December, ministry official Joao Paulo Capobianco said experts are still analyzing satellite imagery and working under the assumption that the higher amount of jungle was cleared.