Taking on the Amazon's 'Deforestation King'

Brazil has arrested Ezequiel Antonio Castanha, who allegedly cleared an area two and a half times the size of Manhattan.

Earlier this week, Brazilian authorities detained Ezequiel Antonio Castanha, who is already being billed in the press as the Amazon's King of Deforestation.

Castanha will face charges "including illegal deforestation and money laundering, and could be sentenced to up to 46 years in prison" for his alleged role in running a network that cleared massive government plots and sold them to cattle grazers, according to the AP. Rio de Janeiro's O Globo adds that Castanha's gang is thought to have "clear-cut some 58 square miles," which is roughly half the size of Little Rock, Arkansas or two and a half Manhattans. (“I don’t regret deforesting land,” Castanha told the press last year, referencing the country's development. “If it weren’t for deforestation, Brazil would not exist.”)

The development follows a startling New York Times dispatch from São Paulo last week that shed light on an unprecedented drought, which is causing the taps in Brazil's biggest city to run dry. "Public schools are prohibiting students from using water to brush their teeth," the report read, "and changing their lunch menus to serve sandwiches instead of meals on plates that need to be washed."

Scientists consider one of the key culprits to be deforestation, which limits the reach of vapor clouds, also known as "flying rivers," and prevents the delivery of rain to southern and central Brazil. "As long ago as 2009, Antonio Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading climate scientists, warned that, without the 'flying rivers,' the area that produces 70% of South America’s GNP would be desert," the Climate News Network relayed.

While the Amazon is unfathomably large in both size and the scale of its biodiversity, nearly one-fifth of it has been cleared during the past four decades, according to Brazil's government. As The Wall Street Journal notes, that's an area roughly equivalent to twice the size of Germany. With Castanha's arrest, the Brazilian government seems to be making an effort to reclaim its patrimony—before it's too late.