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Dear BBC. Thanks for Michael Palin's Brazil - but ...


I’ve just finished watching the Michael Palin series, Brazil. I’ve loved Michael Palin’s travel shows since his original Around the World in 80 Days. As you can probably tell from this site, I’m a serious nature lover - and I especially love wild and exotic places such as the Pantanal. This is why I was upset by the content of the last episode of Michael Palin’s Brazil. It featured the Pantanal region which, IMHO, is the best area for wildlife in all of South America - even better than the Amazon. There were obligatory shots of Palin with oohs and aahs as he gazed on the region’s natural beauty and fauna. He then retired to enjoy a traditional Pantaneiro barbecue with local cattle ranchers who also espoused their love of the environment, and their efforts to protect it. The problem is, the BBC obviously didn’t do their research.

My problem with this program was that the so-called Pantanal “protectors” that Palin was interviewing were the Rondon family. The Rondons must be on the BBC’s speed dial since they seem to get trotted out whenever there’s a BBC crew traveling in the area. They’re well-known, mostly due to their descent from Marshal Cândido Rondon, who surveyed and opened up large territories of Mato Grosso and the Amazon, made first contact with remote tribes, and even has a Brazilian state named after him (Rondônia). The family are wealthy thanks to their sizeable cattle ranches and business interests and - on the surface - appear respectable, educated, and a symbol for the new Brazil. However, there’s a dark side that’s made big news in Brazil - and which the BBC’s researchers should have picked up on before trotting the Rondons out with their “Protectors of the Pantanal” speech yet again. Watching this last segment of Michael Palin’s Brazil felt like watching Adolf Hitler give a speech on Human Rights.

When visiting the town of Corumbá in 2010, I joined a family member for an errand to visit a colleague in the local hospital. That colleague had been shot while assisting the local Policia Florestal (Brazilian Environmental Police) in a raid against a criminal gang running a very significant poaching operation. It was one of the biggest and nastiest poaching rings ever encountered in the region. The gang was running Safari Tours in the Pantanal allowing would-be hunters from Argentina, Paraguay, North America and Russia the opportunity to shoot jaguars, pumas, tapir, and other local wildlife. From the stories that I heard, these safaris couldn’t be classed as sport - since the animals never had a chance. They were tracked down and cornered using dogs and vehicles. All the hunter needed to do was to turn up, and be handed the gun at the opportune moment. Sadly, a prominent member of the Rondon family (Beatriz Rondon) appears to have been in the middle of things. Even more sadly, authorities have reported that a very significant number of animals were slaughtered - almost wiping out the population in some areas.

These safari tours were run across several cattle ranches in the Pantanal (in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso) and further north in Amazonas. It’s very hard to imagine that operations of this size and sophistication could have proceeded without the ranch owners’ knowledge and permission. Prominently listed among those ranches in news reports is the Fazenda Santa Sofia, owned by Beatriz Rondon. Rondon also appears in one of the videos, happily posing near a dying jaguar and commenting that it’ll no longer be bothering her cattle. If protecting her cattle was the motivation for this kill, it’s a spurious one at best - and the actions are still illegal. The truth is that compensation is paid for any cattle killed by jaguars in the Pantanal, with serial offenders able to be captured or relocated as occurs with jaguars elsewhere in Latin America. It’s more likely that the incentive for these safari-style hunting tours was the large amount of money to be made. Each tour reportedly netted R$ 60,000 (USD 36,000).

I’m not sure of the specific relationship between Beatriz Rondon and Poliana Rondon, who was interviewed in the Pantanal segment of Palin’s Brazil. Nonetheless, it does appear to be a significant oversight for a segment whose key message was about the beauty of the Pantanal environment and the need to preserve it. I also hope the public shame of this incident helps change attitudes of the Rondons, and other people who should know better. Clearly, the fines, threat of prosecution and other penalties aren’t enough.

For those wanting to know more, further information about the raids is available here in Portuguese, and here in English (via Google Translate).

Note: You’ll need to manually click the Captions option on the YouTube control bar for captions (Portuguese-only, sorry).

Photo credits: Banner image - Shutterstock.

Andrew Mercer (Bald White Guy)
Andrew Mercer
I'm a Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing consultant based in Brisbane, Australia. I've consulted on or managed several large BI systems in New Zealand, Australia and Latin America.
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