'The Last Bit of Paradise': Giant Dam Threatens Brazilian Rainforest
They search for dead meat, and rummage through the trash. They come from the forest and live on the city's waste. They're called "urubus" in northern Brazil, black vultures with curved beaks and lizard-like heads.
The old people say the birds bring bad luck. There are now thousands in the city of Altamira, more than ever before. They blacken the sky when seen from a distance, and at closer range their silence is unsettling. Black vultures, lacking the vocal organ found in birds, the syrinx, rarely make any noise at all.
"The urubus," says Bishop Erwin Kräutler, "are an unmistakable sign that the city is in chaos." Kräutler, a native Austrian, is the bishop of one of the world's large prelatures, which is larger than Germany. He talks about chaos, speaking into every camera that's pointed at him, and he speaks loudly -- too loudly for the big landowners, the corporations and the government. His enemies have placed a bounty on the bishop's head for the equivalent of almost €400,000 ($543,000), and even the largest newspaper in northern Brazil wrote that it was time to "eliminate" him.
Bishop Kräutler is now 73. He's been living in Altamira, on the edge of the rainforest and in the middle of the Amazon region, for almost 50 years. For the last 30 years, he has been fighting the construction of the dam directly adjacent to the city, a project that is financially lucrative for many in the area.