The Ethical Dilemma of Birding Brazil

Greater Rhea, Pantanal. Brazil

Greater Rhea, Pantanal. Brazil

The thing about being a birder, at least a serious birder, is that you want to go where the birds are. And they are not evenly distributed across the planet. Of the 10,670 or so species of birds alive in the world today, 1,832 are found in Brazil, trailing only Columbia with 1,851. Perhaps more importantly, Brazil has 139 endemic species, birds found nowhere else. Eighteen percent of the world’s birds in one country. That’s why Brazil is a birding mecca.

But at the same time, you have to wonder if visiting Brazil is the right thing to do. Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro is a far-right politician whose campaign promises included destroying the Amazon, repealing environmental protections and removing protections for Brazil’s indigenous peoples. He spews misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, and racist statements. To the extent that taking a birding trip to Brazil supports a politician like that, you have to think twice.

As has happened in the United States, the disregard for the law has filtered down into the bureaucracy, which already had a troubling history of supporting military dictatorships. Brazilian prosecutors recently charged journalist Glenn Greenwald with cybercrimes, because he has embarrassed those same prosecutors. It’s apparent retaliation for The Intercept‘s critical reporting on abuses committed by Justice Minister Sérgio Moro and several federal prosecutors, according to The Intercept. It’s more evidence that the Bolsonaro government has little regard for the rights set out in the Brazilian Constitution.

So viewed one way, visiting Brazil supports corruption and environmental havoc.

Jabiru, Pantanal. Brazil

Jabiru, Pantanal. Brazil

But viewed the other way, does a responsible birder hurt the ecotourism infrastructure that has slowly developed in rural Brazil by boycotting the country for the sins of its elected officials and bureaucrats? WC is pretty confident that the owners of the ecolodges, local birding guides and van drivers WC would be patronizing didn’t vote for and don’t support Jair Bolsonaro and his cronies. Is the political impact of boycotting the country sufficiently meaningful to offset the very real economic and financial injury to the individuals who have worked hard to build their niche industry? Especially when Bolsonaro doesn’t give a fig about the folks being injured.

And then there’s the birds. They are vanishing fast. See ’em now before they’re gone forever. Especially the Atlantic coast birds, who have lost all but a tiny fraction of their habitat. Habitat, by the way, where Bolsonaro has authorized further destruction. If WC waits for Brazil to sort its politics out, there’s a real chance that the species will go extinct (or exist only in zoos) before WC or other birders can see them.

It’s a dilemma.

And it matters because WC and Mrs. WC have a long-planned trip to see those amazing Brazilian Atlantic coast birds this coming fall (spring in Brazil). An expensive walk away.

Sigh. We’ll likely go, maybe almost certainly go.

But it’s a dilemma.


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