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.
Brazilian police and scientists team up to crack down on illegal timber trade
(07/01/2015) Seven years ago, Brazil’s São Paulo State Environmental Police set out to crack down on the illegal timber trade. In 2011, during one of their most ambitious inspection operations, officers inspected nearly 350 trucks and more than 60 lumberyards in just two days. Discovering an array of violations, they responded by delivering 50 violation notices and issuing BRL $2.2 million (USD $1.4 million) in fines.
Rainforest parks cut malaria transmission
(06/16/2015) Strictly protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon are associated with lower rates of malaria transmission than extractive reserves, mining zones, and areas with roads, reports a paper published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings add to a growing body of data suggesting that conservation efforts contribute to human welfare.
62M ha of Latin American forests cleared for agriculture since 2001
(05/19/2015) Over 62 million hectares (240,000 square miles) of forest across Latin America — an area roughly the size of Texas or the United Kingdom — were cleared for new croplands and pastureland between 2001 and 2013, find a study published in Environmental Research Letters.
China’s investment in Latin America taking toll on the environment, setting the stage for conflict
(05/18/2015) China has been investing heavily in Latin America’s natural resources and crude oil. Recently, the country even pledged to invest $250 billion over the next decade to strengthen its presence in the region, and compete with the U.S. But this increasing Chinese trade and investment in Latin America is also increasing environmental and social conflict, finds a new report published by Boston University.
What's the current deforestation rate in the Amazon rainforest?
(05/15/2015) Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil, making it the biggest component in the region's deforestation rate. Helpfully, Brazil also has the best systems for tracking deforestation, with the government and Imazon, a national civil society organization, releasing updates on a quarterly and monthly basis using MODIS satellite data, respectively. Both the Brazilian government and Imazon release more accurate data on an annual basis using higher resolution Landsat satellite imagery.
Zero deforestation commitments bearing fruit in the Amazon
(05/13/2015) A high profile pledge by the world's largest meat company to limit deforestation for cattle production in the Amazon appears to be working, resulting in a dramatic increase in compliance with environmental registries and reduced forest clearing among supplier ranches, finds a comprehensive study published in the journal Conservation Letters.
Peru considers fate of Amazon wildlife paradise
(05/08/2015) The fate of La Sierra del Divisor, a 1.5 million hectare reserve lauded for its megadiversity of wildlife, will soon to be decided. According to El Comercio, next week the Peruvian government is expected to rule whether Divisor will be declared a national park. The designation, which was requested by local groups nearly a decade ago, would strengthen legal protection of the area, which faces logging, mining, coca cultivation, and agricultural encroachment. It would also establish rules for the buffer zone around the potential protected area.
Facing Future Storms: Poor Honduran Communities Unite to Protect Watersheds and Nature
(05/05/2015) There hasn't been much good news out of Honduras recently. One of the poorest Latin American nations, it has been afflicted by a series of natural and political calamities. There is, however, another Honduras, a place where -- despite adversity -- small, rural communities are getting on with the business of living sustainably and dealing effectively with the vagaries of extreme weather, all on a shoestring budget.
Featured video: the Uncharted Amazon trailer
(04/29/2015) The up-coming documentary, Uncharted Amazon, promises to highlight both the little-seen wildlife and the people of the Las Piedras River system in the Peruvian Amazon, one of the most remote wildernesses on the planet.
'Deforestation fronts' revealed
(04/27/2015) Environmental group WWF has released a new report projecting where the organization believes the bulk of global deforestation is likely to occur over the next 15 years. The analysis, published today, highlights eleven regions where 'the bulk of global deforestation is projected to take place' by 2030.
Can shade-grown cocoa help conserve sloths?
(04/22/2015) Tropical forests support the greatest diversity of species in the world, yet we are rapidly destroying them. Most deforestation in the tropics is due to agricultural development and livestock production, the two greatest causes of declines in terrestrial biodiversity. However, one strategy that has been gaining attention for its potential to preserve biodiversity is shade-grown agriculture.
Killings of environmental activists jumped by 20 percent last year
(04/20/2015) The assassination, murder, and extrajudicial killing of environmental activists rose by 20 percent last year, according to a new grim report by Global Witness. The organization documented 116 killings in 2014 across 17 countries with the highest number in Brazil, which saw 29 environmental and land defenders killed.
9 months after Amazonian oil pipeline spill, effects and fears linger
(03/30/2015) When Peru's state-run oil company pulled out of this small Kukama Indian village in mid-December after cleaning up an oil pipeline spill, residents thought life could slowly return to normal. But more than three months later, wisps of oil floating down the Cuninico River—along with a larger spill in the neighboring community of San Pedro—are a reminder that the problems are not over.
Photos: expedition to Amazon’s white sands may have found new primate
(03/24/2015) Most people think of the Amazon rainforest as one massive, homogenous ecosystem—a giant castle of green. However, within the Amazon rainforest lie a myriad of distinct ecosystems, sporting unique characteristics and harboring endemic species. One of the rarer ecosystems in the Amazon is the white sands forest.
Photo essay: filming in the remote Amazon
(03/09/2015) You wake up at 4:30 AM, a little before the first rays of tropical sun begin to dance behind the treetops. You put on your wet clothes from the previous day, pack your bag, and pick up your tripod. The jungle is shrouded in a thick mist from the previous nights rain. As you walk, you recognize many of the strange calls that echo between the trees.
How the Sahara keeps the Amazon rainforest going
(03/02/2015) Scientists have just uncovered an incredible link between the world's largest desert (the Sahara) and its largest rainforest (the Amazon). New research published in Geophysical Research Letters theorizes that the Sahara Desert replenishes phosphorus in the Amazon rainforest via vast plumes of desert dust blowing over the Atlantic Ocean.
Brazil arrests 'Amazon's biggest destroyer'
(02/25/2015) Authorities in Brazil have arrested a man they claim to be the single biggest deforester in the Amazon, according to a statement issued by IBAMA, Brazil's environmental protection agency.
Brazilian indigenous populations grow quickly after first contact devastation
(02/18/2015) Indigenous communities in South America have long experienced devastating impacts from contact with Western society. In the Sixteenth Century, European colonists brought slavery, war, and violence, but disease proved the most devastating. In all, European contact destroyed over 95 percent of the native population.
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.