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Lighting the way to Olympic and Amazon glory


With the Rio Games only a few days away, we’re celebrating two conservation heroes of the Amazon who have been part of the Olympic flame’s epic journey around Brazil. From giant fish to wild rubber, find out how indigenous and rural communities are protecting the rainforest through Sky Rainforest Rescue.

At the climax of the Rio 2016 opening ceremony this Friday, the Olympic flame will be carried into the Maracanã Stadium to light the cauldron, signalling the start of the Games. In a tradition dating back to the 1930s, the flame was lit in Athens and has travelled on an epic relay across Brazil over the last few months, passing through over 300 cities and all 27 states of this vast country. The torch has journeyed much further compared to when the UK hosted the Olympics – Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and 35 times as big as the UK!

Conservation hero Robenir (left) receives the Olympic torch at the beginning of his leg of the relay © Rio 2016 / Fernando SoutelloConservation hero Robenir (left) receives the Olympic torch at the beginning of his leg of the relay © Rio 2016 / Fernando Soutello

On its journey to Rio the torch has been carried by hundreds of Brazilians, chosen for their community work or sporting achievements. They include Robenir and Jose, two extraordinary people who have been working with us to protect the Amazon through Sky Rainforest Rescue, our six-year partnership with Sky that raised over £9.5 million to help save a billion trees in the rainforest. Let’s meet them…

Robenir – connecting fish and forests

One of our approaches to stopping deforestation in our project area, is to help local people make a living out of the healthy forest. It might come as a surprise that fish have a big part to play here.

Carlos Robenir Fernandes de Matos Kaxinawá is part of the Kaxinawá indigenous community and we’ve been supporting him to manage populations of giant arapaima (known locally as pirarucu), one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. These huge fish can reach up to three meters in length and weigh up to 200 kilograms!

Here’s a short film made by our friends at WWF-Brazil about Robenir’s conservation work and his thoughts on being an Olympic torchbearer.

Not only has the project resulted in better incomes for fishermen, who often live in marginalised conditions and depend on the forests’ resources, but our research has also shown that pirarucu thrive more when their lakes are surrounded by natural forest, giving communities another reason to keep the forest standing.

Jose, the Master of Rubber

Our second torchbearer is Jose Rodrigues de Araujo, known locally as ‘Doutor Da Borracha’, the Master of Rubber.

Jose runs through the streets of Acre proudly holding the Olympic torch © Arison Jardim, Acre GovJose runs through the streets of Acre proudly holding the Olympic torch © Ariso Jardim, Acre Gov

Like the pirarucu fish, wild rubber is another forest product that can be harvested sustainably without harming the rainforest. In fact, the Amazon is the only place in the world where rubber trees grow in the wild. Read more in our wild rubber report (PDF)

Jose is an experienced rubber tapper whose products are made from 100% wild Amazon rubber. Jose and his wife design and make wild rubber ‘’jelly’’ shoes, which they both wore when carrying the torch. Through Sky Rainforest Rescue, he’s become a trainer for other tappers in our project area, showing that this ancient practice has an important role in a thriving modern-day forest economy.

We’re immensely proud of Robenir and Jose’s involvement in the torch relay. And they’re not the only link WWF and Sky have to the Rio Olympics – tune into our next Olympic blog to read about the Brazilian Olympic Committee’s work on sustainable diets.

Visit our Amazon pages to learn more about our work in the Amazon and adopt a jaguar to help us protect this incredible species and its habitats.

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