It was 2016 when Jurandir Jekupe noticed the bees were gone.
Their nests were once common in Yvy Porã, the Guarani Mbya village where Jekupe grew up and still lives. But now the uruçu, a species known for its honey, had all but vanished, and sightings of the jataí, a species sacred to the Guarani Mbya, were rare.
“Bees are very sensitive,” says Jekupe, a leader in his Indigenous community. “They’re like a thermometer for the forest. If they disappear, you know there’s something wrong.”
Yvy Porã is one of six villages that make up the Jaraguá Indigenous Territory. It lies just 12 miles northwest of downtown São Paulo and is surrounded by the concrete of working-class neighborhoods. But this small forested area is part of a much larger whole — Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, a domain that covers almost 35,000 square miles, running along more than 1,800 miles of the Atlantic Coast, sweeping across 17 Brazilian states, and dipping into Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
Logging of this forest — still considered the second largest rainforest in Brazil — began in the early 16th century as land was cleared for timber and mines and then, in the 19th century, for coffee plantations, beef, sugar, firewood, and charcoal. Today, developers continue to clear the Atlantic Forest for housing, as the populations of São Paulo — currently home to 12.4 million people — and Rio de Janeiro explode.