South and Central America hold the bulk of the world's remaining tropical rainforests. More than 97 percent of this region's forests are found in South America, including the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon.
Today South America suffers the highest total loss of forest—around 4.3 million hectares were cleared per year between 2000 and 2005. Most of the forest loss has occurred in the Amazon rainforest where large tracts of land are being cleared for cattle ranches, soybean plantations, and subsistence agriculture. Legal and illegal logging is also widespread in the region. Overall, deforestation rates have increased in South America by almost 17 percent since the end of the 1990s. At least 60 million hectares (232,000 square miles) of forest were lost between 1990 and 2005. Scientists are concerned that forest loss could escalate in the Amazon due to increasingly dry conditions. In 2005, the Amazon suffered the most severe drought on record, leaving rivers dry and communities stranded. Tens of thousands of fires burned.
In the Caribbean, very little natural tropical forest cover remains. Between 2000 and 2005, forest cover actually expanded in the Caribbean due to the increase in plantation cover. However, primary forest cover still declined due to clearing for development and small-scale agriculture on the part of poor farmers.
Central America had the highest deforestation rate of any region in the world over the past five years. Much of this clearing came from subsistence activities and agricultural schemes, though illegal logging is a problem in the region. Overall, Central America lost 19 percent of its forest over between 1990 and 2005. The good news is that deforestation rates are slowing.
The outlook for the rainforests of South America is better than that of Africa because of heavy pressure by outside environmentalists and an increasingly ecologically minded, educated populace. A fair amount of land is afforded some sort of protection—though not always effective against illegal exploitation—and local projects promoting sustainable management while benefiting locals are on the rise. Several governments, including those of Brazil and Costa Rica, have passed policies to enhance protection of forests. Many Neotropical countries have developed eco-tourism as a means to generate revenue to protect forests. Costa Rica has entered into a unique bioprospecting contract with an American pharmaceutical company (Merck), and it appears that others may soon follow suit. The use and export of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) is increasing, though it still plays a minute role in trade in comparison to timber, oil, and minerals extracted from rainforest lands. Funding of large, damaging hydroelectric projects appears to be on the decline as funding agencies move to support smaller, more effective projects. Nevertheless, the forests of the Neotropical realm are facing tremendous challenges from numerous development threats.
Amazon deforestation in Brazil drops 18% in 2013/2014
(11/26/2014) Figures published Wednesday by Brazil's National Space Research Institute (INPE) show that 4,848 square kilometers (1,871 square miles) of forest — an area about the size of the state of Rhode Island or the country of Brunei — were cleared between August 2013 and July 2014.
Amazon deforestation moratorium extended 18 months
(11/25/2014) The Brazilian soy industry has extended its deforestation moratorium for another 18 months. The moratorium, which was established in 2006 after a high-profile Greenpeace campaign, bars conversion of forests in Brazilian Amazon for soy production. Independent analysis has shown it to be highly effective — just prior to the moratorium, soy accounted for roughly a fifth of recent deforestation, while today its share is less than one percent.
A tale of 2 Perus: Climate Summit host, 57 murdered environmentalists
(11/18/2014) On September 1st, indigenous activist, Edwin Chota, and three other indigenous leaders were gunned down and their bodies thrown into rivers. Chota, an internationally-known leader of the Asháninka in Peru, had warned several times that his life was on the line for his vocal stance against the destruction of his peoples' forests, yet the Peruvian government did nothing to protect him—or others.
Field plots offer biased view of the Amazon
(11/17/2014) Field plots in the Amazon are often not representative of the habitats surrounding them, potentially biasing extrapolations made across the region, argues a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The research is based on advanced three-dimensional mapping of forest structure within field plots and in surrounding areas using sensors aboard the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, an airplane-based system.
Brazilian government silent as deforestation rises in the Amazon
(11/17/2014) Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continues to outpace last year's rate by a significant margin, reveals data released today by Imazon, a Brazilian non-profit. Imazon's analysis of satellite data shows that for the 3-month period ended October 31, 2014, deforestation is running 226 percent of last year's rate. Forest degradation, which often precedes outright clearing, is pacing 691 percent ahead of last year.
Indigenous uprising earned tribe territories, but greatest challenges lie ahead
(11/06/2014) In 1925, Nele Kantule led a revolution that would make Guna Yala an independent and sovereign indigenous territory within Panama. Since then, the Guna have maintained a way of life that has allowed them to preserve their natural resources and mainland forest to an exceptional degree. But today, like many indigenous groups around the world, the Guna face some of their greatest challenges yet: the impacts of climate change, encroaching outside influences, and a younger generation that many elders feel is drifting from its roots.
Brazilian tribes demarcate territory in bid to block dams
(11/06/2014) Indigenous communities in Brazil have taken the unusual step of demarcating their own land — without the approval of the Brazilian government — in a bid to block two dams they say threaten their territory and traditional livelihoods, report International Rivers and Amazon Watch, advocacy groups that are fighting the projects. Last week the Munduruku people annexed the 178,000-hectare Sawré Muybu territory after authorities failed to recognize their claims.
Facing severe drought, 'war effort' needed to save the Amazon, says scientist
(11/03/2014) Severe droughts in southern Brazil may be linked to deforestation and degradation of Earth's largest rainforest, argues a new report published by a Brazilian scientist. Reviewing data from roughly 200 studies, Antonio Donato Nobre of Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) warns that reducing deforestation will not be enough to restore the ecological function of the Amazon rainforest, which acts as a giant water pump that delivers precipitation across much of South America.
Between the Forest and the Sea: The Yarsuisuit Collective - Part II
(10/31/2014) In this multimedia piece by SRI fellow Bear Guerra, we follow Andrés de León and the Yarsuisuit collective, a group of men who grow and harvest food sustainably in the Guna mainland forest. They also run a store on the island of Ustupu that helps support their families, serving as a model for the wider community.
Pet trade likely responsible for killer salamander fungus
(10/30/2014) As if amphibians weren't facing enough—a killer fungal disease, habitat destruction, pollution, and global warming—now scientists say that a second fungal disease could spell disaster for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of species. A new paper finds that this disease has the potential to wipe out salamanders and newts across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Americas.
Between the forest and the sea: life and climate change in Guna Yala - Part I
(10/27/2014) The island-dwelling Guna people of Panama are one of the most sovereign indigenous communities in the world, but now severe weather and sea level rise are causing regular flooding on many of the islands, and will likely force the Guna to have to abandon their island homes for the mainland. This multimedia piece offers an introduction to everyday life and customs in Guna Yala and touches upon the uncertain future the Guna are now facing thanks to the impacts of climate change.
Beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products from 8 countries responsible for 1/3 of forest destruction
(10/23/2014) Four commodities produced in just eight countries are responsible for a third of the world's forest loss, according to a new report. Those familiar with the long-standing effort to stop deforestation won't be surprised by the commodities named: beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products (including timber and paper). Nor will they be very surprised by most of the countries: Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
As Amazon deforestation falls, small farmers play bigger role in forest clearing
(10/14/2014) Smallholder properties account for a rising proportion of overall deforestation in Brazilian Amazon, suggesting that Brazil’s progress in cutting forest loss through stricter law enforcement may be nearing the limits of its effectiveness, finds a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
'River wolves' recover in Peruvian park, but still remain threatened inside and out (photos)
(10/14/2014) Lobo de río, or river wolf, is the very evocative Spanish name for one of the Amazon's most spectacular mammals: the giant river otter. This highly intelligent, deeply social, and simply charming freshwater predator almost vanished entirely due to a relentless fur trade in the 20th Century. But decades after the trade in giant river otter pelts was outlawed, the species is making a comeback.
Use of mammals still prevalent in Brazil’s Conservation Units
(10/06/2014) For as long as humans and animals have co-existed, people have utilized them as resources. Animals, and their parts, have been used for a variety of purposes, ranging from basic food to more esoteric practices such as in magical ceremonies or religion. A new study has found that the undocumented use of animals, particularly mammals, continues to occur in Brazil’s protected areas known as Conservation Units.
Four countries pledge to restore 30 million hectares of degraded lands at UN Summit
(09/25/2014) In 2011, Germany and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature launched the Bonn Challenge, which pledged to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands by 2020. Several countries have already made commitments—including the U.S.—but this week at the UN Climate Summit four more jumped on board.
Conservationist, indigenous leader killed in plane crash in Colombia
(09/07/2014) A conservationist who worked to protect voluntarily isolated tribes in the Amazon rainforest and an indigenous leader were among ten killed in a plane crash in southern Colombia Saturday afternoon. Roberto Franco, a political scientist, and Daniel Matapi, a Yukuna-Matapis indigenous leader, died when the Piper PA-31 Navajo crashed after takeoff from Araracuara in the department of Caqueta.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.