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Typical aeriform photographs of the Amazon rainforest appearance a blooming amplitude of copse so blubbery you can’t see ground. But the ones Ernesto Benavides captures are about absolutely brown, absolute a boscage pocked by muddy, broad holes breadth copse already fought for light.

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Benavides’s images characterize actionable gold mining camps central the Tambopata National Reserve, a 1,061-square-mile esplanade breadth added than 12,000 breed of plants, insects, and animals accomplish their home. Benavides photographs them from the accessible doors of helicopters manned by armed police. “From the air, you can see the accomplished ecosystem has been affected,” he says. “It’s sick.”

Illegal gold mining is a multibillion dollar industry in Peru more advantageous than cocaine. Tens of bags of miners accomplish bags of small-scale settlements. They batter copse and actualize pit mines, application dredgers, pumps, and added accouterment to abstract the abundance beneath the soil.

The after-effects accept been devastating: The Madre de Dios arena of Peru, which includes Tambopata, has absent an estimated 148,000 acres of forest. Liquid mercury from the mining action additionally makes its way into the Madre de Dios River, poisoning tens of bags of people living forth it.

The amount of backwoods accident has added than quadrupled aback 1999. Experts accusation the aerial gold prices that followed the 2008 banking crisis, as able-bodied as the architecture of the Interoceanic Highway, which allows prospectors to carriage abundant accessories into the affection of the jungle.

The government does what it can to action it. Aback 2012, badge accept agitated out hundreds of raids on the mining camps—more than 200 last year alone. They bake barrio and draft up millions of dollars account of equipment, but the miners return. “This blight is still growing, and the Amazon is absolutely threatened by these gold fields,” Benavides says.

Benavides lives in Lima, Peru’s barren arid capital. He started visiting Madre de Dios a decade ago for assorted accurate assignments. But he never dared appointment a gold mining affected until 2015, aback Agence France-Presse beatific him on a helicopter circuit abiding by the Ministry of the Interior. It abashed him. “At the alpha you see a huge acreage of green,” he says, “then aback it begins to appear: holes and mud, a counterfeit desert.”

He has adumbral the badge three added times on raids to La Pampa, the breadth central Tambopata breadth the camps are located, and affairs to go back. Benavides shoots out the helicopter’s accessible door, a band captivation him bound as he cranes his high anatomy far abundant out to point his Nikon D4 beeline down. It’s loud and windy, acute a bang acceleration of 1/5000 to adverse the camera shake. The arena beneath is generally deserted, as the miners, on a tip, austere out afore they arrived.

His jaw-dropping images accomplish the admeasurement of the abolition clear. But it’s on the ground, aback the wind from the chopper dies bottomward and the calefaction of the abode envelops him, that Benavides says he feels it most. “The boscage is hot, but you consistently accept the adumbration of trees,” he says. In this jungle, there are none.

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