Brazilian forest ranger Christoph Jaster is not a man to shrink from challenges.
He shoulders almost all the responsibility for the environmental protection of Tumucumaque National Park in the Brazilian Amazon, a reserve the size of the Netherlands, where illegal gold mining and deforestation are threatening rainforests that play a key role in the fight against climate change.
“We are totally understaffed,” Jaster calmly observes while laying out a map showing a vast green region filled with rivers, but hardly any roads.
At most, only up to 2,000 people live in the area of nearly 40,000 square kilometres, one of the largest rainforest protection areas in the world, which borders on French Guiana and the former Dutch colony of Suriname.
The 53-year-old forestry expert had come from Germany to Brazil with his parents, after his father found a job working in development projects.
Jaster studied forestry in Curitiba, became a Brazilian citizen and was hired by the Environment Ministry in 2003 to protect Tumucumaque.
However, Germans had been in the area long before Jaster came, as evidenced by a cross that stands deep in the jungle.
It displays a swastika and the inscription: “Joseph Greiner died here on 2.1.36 [January 2, 1936] from fever while serving German research.”
Greiner likely belonged to a secret expedition that biologist Otto Schulz-Kampfhenkel led along the River Jary from 1935 to 1937 that allegedly was commissioned to look into the possibility of creating an outpost for the Nazis in the South American rainforest.
Schulz-Kampfhenkel later wrote a book named Raetsel der Urwaldhoelle (Enigmas of Jungle Hell).
“The geographic information from the expedition is very precise and interesting,” Jaster says.
Eight decades later, Jaster shares responsibility with only one other high-level staff member for the protection of the park, where hunting and deforestation are banned, but which budget cuts have made increasingly difficult to control.
Expeditions to find out about the situation of mammals, butterflies or birds can last for weeks, with the participants sometimes having to carry their boats in rivers where they could be swept away by currents or where the water level has sunk too low.
Brazilian President Michel Temer is accused by environmentalists of prioritising economic interests over the protection of the Amazon and its indigenous people, dozens of whom are reported to be killed annually.
Trees that should be protecting the climate by absorbing carbon dioxide keep being hacked down to obtain tropical wood and to make way for power plants, gold mines and soy bean farms, which are irrigated with the ill-famed herbicide glyphosate.
The remote Amapa state, where Tumucumaque is located, has largely been spared from such activities that have plagued Brazil so far.
But illegal gold mines are already operating here, leading to trees being felled and mercury being released into rivers, where indigenous people report the presence of “mercury fish.”
While many Brazilians criticise the small-scale tourism that exists in the area, Jaster – whose work includes that of guide – believes it can help preserve the rainforests by bringing income to indigenous groups campaigning against their land’s destruction.
Even if Tumucumaque has not experienced large-scale economic exploitation so far, “it is on its way,” he warns. - DPA

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