This article was produced with support of the Pulitzer Center's Rainforest Investigations Network
São Félix do Xingu is a modern-day Wild West hacked out of Brazil’s Amazon jungle by folks with little to lose. Cattle outnumber people almost 20-to-1 and, after dusk, the cratered, dirt roads fill with big rigs hauling the mammoth trunks of stolen trees. It’s a place outsiders don’t have much reason to visit, where motorcyclists won’t wear helmets because people want to know who is coming and going. Just about everybody knows everybody else, especially Stanisley Ferreira Sandes.
Four months a year, Ferreira Sandes, 47, crisscrosses São Félix’s almost 85,000 square kilometers (33,000 square miles) in a four-by-four Chevrolet with a cowboy hat on the dash and a revolver under the seat. He’s on the hunt for 5,000 head of cattle to feed a pipeline pumping beef through slaughterhouses owned by Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS SA and others, then into markets from Miami to Hong Kong. The faster he hits his mark, the sooner he goes home.