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Chris Kilham, is an ethnobotanist and a former Explorer-in-Residence at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and has visited the Amazon 35 times, working in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and French Guiana to support the forests, rivers, people, wildlife, foods, and medicines that are part of the Amazon’s rich ecosystem. We asked him about the impact of the devastating fires there on the people and wildlife of the region.
ODP: We know now the importance of the Amazon as a carbon sink, but why else is it so important to the planet?
CK: The Amazon has the two largest freshwater rivers on Earth, the Rio Hamza that is 2.5 Km below the Amazon River, and the Amazon River itself. These rivers supply an immense amount of freshwater. Water is being polluted by fires, nitrogen from farms, animal waste, gold mining, and oil drilling.
ODP: The Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate. What do you believe the long term impacts of the fires will be and what can be done to stop the destruction?
CK: The long term effects of the fires are simple. Increased atmospheric carbon, greatly increased pollution of air, water and soil, utter destruction of indigenous communities, killing off vast amounts of wildlife, reduced rainfall, increased pollution from farming, and more. The destruction is already happening. It is already the apocalypse in Amazonia. Brazil and Ecuador should be stopped by any means. However, it will most likely continue.
ODP: It has been described on CNN as like a cemetery — all you can see is death. What are we losing in these fires?
CK: The Amazon is home to many indigenous people. It is where they live. They are being burned out and in some cases killed. The Amazon is home to vast wildlife that either dies or runs away. Mostly the animals die. The Amazon is the most biologically diverse place on Earth and that diversity is being systematically wiped out. The Amazon is a vast source of medicines and foods, all of which are being destroyed for cheap burgers.
ODP:You are known as the “Medicine Hunter” and have spent time in the Amazon exploring for new medicines — can you describe some of the promising plants you have discovered there?
CK: In the Amazon, I have worked with aguaje’ fruit and oil, acai fruit, ungurahui fruit and oil, dragon’s blood latex, cat’s claw vine, chuchuhuasi bark, huito fruit dye, ayahuasca, brugmansia, and many more plants and foods. All of these are part of the native diet, part of the native pharmacy, and valuable to native people for trade and earning a living. Now many of these natural treasures are burned away.
ODP:How do the fires impact the native people and communities that live in the remote Amazon?
CK: The fires leave many native people dead, many more homeless, and even more with no prospects. The communities, the foods, the medicines, the environments, the wildlife are all being destroyed. So the lives of indigenous native people are being destroyed.
Thanks, Chris, for your work to conserve the Amazon and for helping us to understand the losses caused by the wildfires there.
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