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  • On the hunt, for deadly viruses.

  • Yes, we are the bat hunters.

  • Their aim is to prevent the next catastrophe.

  • Bats carry a lot of viruses that could trigger pandemics.

  • Pandemics, of which we humans are the cause.

  • Because of our destruction of the environment,

  • humans are moving ever closer to wild animals.

  • We can cut down half the rainforest and there'll still be enough left.

  • People who are campaigning to protect the rain forest ?

  • ?and for biodiversity?

  • ?are helping to prevent new pandemics.

  • How can we humans destroy a living forest, hundreds of years old,

  • with a chain saw?

  • We are in the Brazilian Amazon region with a group of virus hunters.

  • They are tracking down invisible killer pathogens in the jungle.

  • Our first trip takes us deep into the hinterland of São Paulo state.

  • It's the region of sugar cane plantations.

  • Trucks pass us by, carrying the sweet harvest.

  • In the dusk we spot a ring-tailed coati.

  • We are out with biologist Cristiano Carvalho and his team.

  • In the few remaining strips of the Atlantic rain forest,

  • he is looking for the hiding places of bats.

  • He thinks he has located some in these water pipes,

  • where he heard the sound of wings flapping inside.

  • Indeed, there is a colony of bats.

  • Dozens of them are living here in the cracks and crevices of the pipes.

  • I'm specialised in seeking out bat hideaways in regions like this,

  • close to agricultural land.

  • Mostly I find them in trees, or like here, in water pipes.

  • The bat expert's work begins shortly before dusk.

  • He spans a net over the entrance and the bat hunt is on.

  • We are working with these animals

  • to find out how far the various viruses have spread.

  • It is part of our scientific work

  • to find out which bats are carrying which viruses.

  • Nowin times of the coronavirus

  • everyone needs to wear protective clothing

  • to prevent a transmission of the virus.

  • Chiropterathe scientific name for bats

  • have been Cristiano's passion for 26 years.

  • He wants to lure them from the back of the pipe into the net.

  • It's amazing how quickly he succeeds.

  • Cristiano has to painstakingly untangle the animal from the net.

  • For him, it's a routine procedure after his many bat hunts.

  • He hands over the bats he has caught to virologist Angelica Campos,

  • who neatly hangs them up in fabric sacks.

  • It's only since this year that people worldwide

  • have been noticing that bats carry numerous viruses

  • which can be transmitted to humans and trigger pandemics.

  • That's why researchers are now looking more closely and precisely

  • to find out which viruses are being carried in each individual animal.

  • They need thick gloves to do the job. The bats are not afraid to bite.

  • Angelica takes samples out of the throats

  • and digestive tracts of the bats,

  • places where the coronavirus likes to settle.

  • We've been expecting a coronavirus pandemic for years,

  • but hoping that we would be wrong.

  • They keep finding new previously unknown viruses

  • in the faeces of the bats.

  • With our work we want to prevent another pandemic from breaking out.

  • We are hunting for new, dangerous types of virus

  • or trying at least to limit them.

  • According to estimates,

  • there are more than 300,000 unknown pathogens in the world's jungles

  • mostly hidden in the bodies of mammals such as bats or rodents.

  • As long as the rain forest stays intact,

  • the viruses and bacteria pose no threat to humans.

  • When humans and their livestock get too close to wild animals,

  • the viruses can be transmitted to cattle, pigs, or humans,

  • and become deadly.

  • The virus hunters want to find out

  • which pathogens are a threat to humans.

  • The bat samples have to be kept frozen at -80°C

  • on their way to the laboratory to keep the virus code intact.

  • It's important to get as many samples from the bats as possible,

  • so we can identify the many types of virus circulating in the population.

  • Bats are more interesting for researchers than other mammals,

  • as they carry an unusually high number of viruses.

  • We can think of bats as a kind of virus storage.

  • The pathogens stay in their bodies, far away from us humans.

  • Pandemics arise when humans encroach on the natural territory of the bats

  • and upset the balance of nature where the viruses exist.

  • The researchers show us what they mean

  • on the way to their São Paulo laboratory with their freezer box.

  • Due to the sugar cane monoculture here the hanta virus has spread rapidly.

  • It is transmitted by rat droppings.

  • The hanta virus is not dangerous for the rodents.

  • But for humans, every second case of infection leads to death.

  • According to researchers, the hanta virus started spreading rapidly

  • after the jungle was cleared for the monoculutre.

  • In the 1970s,

  • Brazil began building roads through the impenetrable Amazon rain forest.

  • With their Trans-Amazonian Highway,

  • the military dictatorship laid the foundation

  • for the massive deforestation we see today.

  • Agriculture has bestowed prosperity upon many regions,

  • at the cost of the rain forest.

  • More and more railway lines and highways cut through the Amazon.

  • Every year fires ravage more swathes of the rain forest.

  • They are usually started by farmers

  • wanting to increase the size of their fields.

  • We are on the Trans-Amazonian Highway on our way to an indigenous reserve.

  • We see traces of slash and burn farming on all sides.

  • Now in dry season, smoke lingers over vast stretches of the countryside.

  • President Jair Bolsonaro won 60% of the votes

  • in this region of the Brazilian state of Pará.

  • In his election campaign, he promised to free up

  • the reserves of the indigenous peoples for deforestation

  • and to support the many local cattle breeders.

  • When we reach the reserve, we see an illegal settlement.

  • The collection of huts is called 'Vila Renascer', 'the place of rebirth'.

  • It looks like a piece of the wild west, and indeed it is.

  • Vila Renascer stands on a piece of indigenous land

  • protected by the constitution.

  • This fact was confirmed by civil servants,

  • who also told us that they're powerless against illegal squatters.

  • They're not allowed to give interviews but one person agrees to speak to us:

  • Antoneta Araujo, a cook from an entirely different region

  • who moved to Vila Renascer a year ago.

  • Our restaurant will do well. This place is growing.

  • Are there many workers here?

  • Yes.

  • Many Brazilians come from far away and stake out a piece of land to work on.

  • I think it must be worthwhile.

  • Antoneta and her husband Berto are frustrated.

  • Neither of them has ever learned to read and write,

  • and they do not understand why the state sees them as illegal squatters.

  • We have no nurse here who could take care of us.

  • She is not allowed to come here, because our settlement is illegal.

  • The politicians come here to get our votes

  • but so far no one has helped us to get a legal title as landowners.

  • Berto shows us his building site next door,

  • where a new, larger restaurant is planned.

  • They have just laid the foundation for the floor tiles.

  • Antoneta is hoping for good business, in spite of everything.

  • The authorities say this is indigenous territory.

  • But the old people say there have never been any indigenous people here.

  • Still, the state won't give us this land.

  • Are they right?

  • I'm not sure. We hope that we can soon be the legal owners of this land.

  • Then we can work here with a clear conscience.

  • You don't see yourselves as illegal?

  • We persevere.

  • Buildings are going up everywhere.

  • The craft workers are just putting up walls for an Evangelical free church.

  • It is the sixth in the settlement.

  • In just two years, the settlement has grown to around 2,000 people.

  • For years,

  • the squatters' spokesman has been fighting for legalization in court.

  • In his view, the indigenous reserve is too big.

  • He demands that it be reduced in size.

  • Traditionally, the indigenous people have never lived on this land.

  • That's why we demand that the reports justifying the reserve

  • should be checked again.

  • We just want everything to be done truthfully.

  • The squatters' lawyers

  • have managed to get the status of the reserve re-evaluated.

  • You have to understand

  • that the people living here in the Amazon want to survive.

  • That has to be possible on this land.

  • That's also how Joca Costa sees it. He runs the corner shop in Vila Renascer.

  • He too is hoping that the size of the reserve will be cut.

  • If they legalise our place then everything will be fine.

  • There is so much wealth in this earth, raw materials.

  • Which ones?

  • A lot of gold and more.

  • So, we're hanging in there to see what happens.

  • Shortly afterwards, Leandro Aires arrives.

  • He lives near the gold mines

  • and complains about the latest raid by the state controllers.

  • I have no idea whether the raid was legal or not.

  • They came to my house and set it on fire. Then they left again.

  • I couldn't do anything.

  • He is talking about an operation by Brazilian environmental police

  • against the illegal gold diggers in the reserve.

  • Not only are the criminals destroying the rain forest

  • and poisoning the ground with mercury,

  • but they're also bringing the new coronavirus to the indigenous region.

  • Brazilian environmental police destroyed excavators and pumps.

  • On videos taken on mobile phones, gold diggers complained about the raid.

  • The government and the environment minister promised us

  • that we could look for gold in the indigenous areas.

  • That's why we expect our work as gold diggers to be legalized.

  • But we're going to carry on until then.

  • Thanks to the gold diggers, shop owner Joca is doing well in his business.

  • But if it were up to him, it would be doing even better.

  • The best thing the government could do

  • is to legalise our area and improve the roads, so I can do more business.

  • That would be great.

  • A jeep has stopped outside.

  • From the load in the back it's obvious what this man is planning.

  • After picking up some groceries,

  • he drives directly into the reserve with his workers.

  • The group clearly has an eye on rain forest timber.

  • The fact is, by destroying the rain forest of the indigenous people,

  • the squatters - without realizing it - are increasing the risk of a pandemic.

  • Brazil's indigenous people

  • are fighting against the economic exploitation of the rain forest.

  • Their instincts tell them

  • that economic progress also brings disadvantages.

  • We are not just demanding better healthcare in the pandemic,

  • but to close this road too,

  • because we are demonstrating against the planned railway tracks.

  • Mostly, protests like this have no effect

  • since an intact rainforest as a buffer zone against dangerous viruses

  • cannot be exploited for economic gain.

  • German Alvarado thinks differently.

  • Ever since he can remember,

  • he has lived in and from the Amazon rain forest.

  • German knows every plant and the significance of each one.

  • This liana vine which grows out of the ground contains drinking water.

  • For German,

  • every plant and every living creature in the jungle has its own purpose.

  • Such as the milky resin of a palm tree, which can help to heal wounds.

  • The forest is like a pharmacy.

  • We can find everything herewater, medicine and remedies.

  • Simply everything.

  • For German, the intact forest has become his livelihood.

  • For 10 years,

  • he's been operating a lodge on the edge of the conservation area.

  • At the moment, most of his huts are empty.

  • The coronavirus pandemic has brought sustainable tourism to a standstill.

  • The lodge was always fully booked and is particularly popular

  • with tourists from Europe who want to vacation in the jungle.

  • Now German and his wife are worried about their livelihood.

  • They have ploughed all of their savings into their business.

  • Grilled Amazon river fish like tambaqui

  • are the speciality of German and his wife.

  • But their lodge was closed for 6 months,

  • and business is still sluggish.

  • I think that in a few months, tourists will come again from Europe.

  • Everything depends on the vaccine.

  • Until it exists, no-one will be able to travel with confidence.

  • Still, they don't want to give up.

  • The first guests since the reopening have just appeared.

  • A couple from Sao Paulo.

  • This region has so far been spared from raging fires

  • or gold diggers ripping the ground open.

  • Luckily,

  • our regional government takes care of protected areas such as ours here,

  • so there's not as much deforestation.

  • But other Amazon regions have been destroyed.

  • The deforestation will have negative consequences for us humans one day.

  • Virologists on the university campus of São Paulo

  • are researching these consequences.

  • For years they've been warning of a ticking time bomb,

  • in the form of wild animals encountering humans more often