By Luciana MagalhaesFollow
and Samantha PearsonFollow
| Photographs by Dado Galdieri for The Wall Street Journal
Sept. 17, 2023 10:00 am ET
JUAZEIRO, Brazil—Weighing more than 100 pounds, big cats have long reigned over this hot and semi-arid region of Brazil, developing tougher paws for the scorched earth and reaching speeds of 50 miles an hour to bring down wild boar and deer.
But nothing could have prepared them for the 150-foot blades now slicing up the deep blue sky above them.
Jaguars and pumas are facing extinction in the Caatinga, Brazil’s northeastern shrublands, as Europe and China pour investment into wind farms, puncturing the land with vast turbines that are scaring the animals away from the region’s scant water sources.
Particularly sensitive to changes to their habitat, the jaguars and pumas abandon their lairs as soon as construction work on the wind farms begins, said Claudia Bueno de Campos, a biologist who helped found the group Friends of the Jaguars and has tracked the region’s vanishing feline population. They then roam vast distances across the dusty plains in search of new streams and rivers.
The weakest perish along the way. Others venture closer to villages, where locals have started laying traps to protect their small herds of goats and sheep, often their only form of survival in this impoverished region.
The wind power industry has doubled its capacity in Brazil since 2018, setting the country up to be the world’s fourth-biggest producer by 2027 behind China, the U.S. and Germany, according to the Brazilian Wind Power Association, an industry body.
But by helping to solve one problem—climate change—the wind industry risks creating others, warn conservationists. Indigenous groups recently staged protests in Brazil over the installation of turbines on lands they say are rightfully theirs, while environmentalists have also raised concerns that wind farms installed on compacted sand dunes on the northern coast could have damaged underground water reservoirs.
In the U.S., the industry has recently hit a series of setbacks, from supply chain issues to spiraling costs.