Despite its economic importance in the international scenario, the first idea many people have of Brazil still is associated to soccer and carnival. And worse than that: some people still believe that Brazil is a big jungle in which elephants, monkeys and giraffes walk free among human beings.
Brazil is not a jungle
It is no secret that Brazil is often portrayed by its supposedly exotic wildlife. The use of the term “exotic” to define life in Brazil is very questionable, as a Brazilian may find the fact that deer may cross the road while one is driving in the United States very exotic as well.
The fact that Brazil is a tropical country with a wide variety of animals does not mean that Brazil is not an urbanized country or that urban and wildlife live together. Anyone coming to Brazil, especially to São Paulo city, may be amused by the lack of green areas amongst the grey landscape.
The mostly found animals on the streets of downtown areas are stray dogs and pigeons. Many Brazilians (myself included) have only seen monkeys, giraffes and elephants in the city zoo during a high school trip. Of course, in some areas of Rio de Janeiro, for example, it is possible to find some monkeys who are even fed by the local inhabitants, but they are an exception and not the rule.
Down below is a list of some particularities and misconceptions regarding animals in Brazil.
1 - Dogs and cats
In most Brazilian households one will find a dog or a cat. In general, we Brazilians are very fond of these animals and have them as pets. Stray dogs are found almost everywhere and even though the government works to remove them from the streets, spay measures are still inefficient and most municipalities cannot control their reproduction.
The presence of dogs in shopping malls can be alien to foreigners coming to Brazil. Malls allowing the entrance of dogs may restrict their size, but do not require any proof that the animal is healthy. Also, there is none or little concern about the fact that some people may be allergic to them.
2 – Horses and donkeys
In many Brazilian cities it is possible to see urban and rural life struggling to live together in the same environment, so it is not uncommon to see a horse-drawn carriage waiting among cars at the traffic light. Horses are not only ridden on special occasions or for entertainment purposes, but actually as a transportation method, being an example of how cities simply invade the countryside without giving its inhabitants time to adapt to the new reality.
These horses are very often left to eat the roadside grass, as urban areas have no pasture, so one driving in Brazil must be very careful as there is always the possibility of hitting a horse or donkey, just like drivers in the US or Europe have to watch out for deer or even bulls.
3 – Birds
As it happens in any urban area, pigeons are found at the thousands in any Brazilian city and just like rats, they are considered to be a plague. People in Brazil do not own macaws or toucans (they are actually in extinction due to the predatory and illegal commercialization). Brazilians prefer smaller birds like canaries, cockatiels, parakeets and parrots.
4 – Capybara
Capybaras can be found on the roadside of major highways such as Marginal Pinheiros, in São Paulo, and by Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, in Rio de Janeiro. Capybaras are the biggest rodents in the world and can also be found by Paraná River.
5 – Bats, snakes, jaguars and other scary animals
As previously mentioned, the unplanned and predatory growth of the real estate market has turned green areas inhabited by wild animals into luxurious condos without relocating these animals to another area. The result is the scary and not so uncommon appearance of snakes, bats, owls and even jaguars in the backyards.
6 – Insects and arachnids
As summer in Brazil is humid and with high temperatures, the presence of several insects is inevitable. The most common are mosquitos and crane flies, but depending on where you are in Brazil, you must be very careful in the prevention of the following diseases:
One of the most mortal diseases in the world, Malaria is a tropical parasitic disease that kills millions of people every year. It is transmitted through the sting of the female Anopheles mosquitoes. Malaria is most common in rural and semi-rural areas, but urban areas are not immunized against it.
Typical of the tropical and subtropical areas of South America and Africa, Yellow Fever is transmitted by the mosquito Haemagogus jathinomys. In the cities, it is transmitted by the mosquito Aedes Aegypti, the same one transmitting dengue fever.
Leishmaniasis is transmitted by the sting of phlebotomine mosquitos and out of all the cases of Leishmaniasis found in Latin America, 90% are in Brazil, especially in the Northeasten region. The disease affects both dogs and humans.
Also known as Elephantiasis, Filariasis is a tropical infectious disease transmitted by the sting of Culex, Aedes or Anopheles mosquitoes. It is mostly observed in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil, especially where there is no proper drinking water or sewage treatment.
Transmitted to humans by the female of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, Dengue is one of Ministry of Health main concerns during the rainy season. In 2006, 3.970 municipalities out of the 5.570 municipalities in the country have reported cases of dengue fever, with some of them resulting in the death of the victim.
There is no vaccine against Dengue, so the only prevention against it is to control the reproduction of Aedes Aegypti, that needs still water to deposit its eggs. Every year during the summer, local and state governments invest in several campaigns to educate the population about the procedures to prevent the reproduction of the mosquito, but despite the efforts, dengue is still far from being eradicated.