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NEOTROPICAL REALM

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.

Threats

Map of South America - Rhett Butler 2000

Click for larger image

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.

Outlook


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.

Profiles:
Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Caribbean islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Overview:
Total land area
Total forest cover
2005
Primary forest cover
2005
Total
deforestation
1990-2005
Loss of
primary forest
1990-2005
Country(1000 ha)(1000 ha)% of total
land area
(1000 ha)% of total
land area
%
of 1990
forest cover
% of 1990
primary
forest cover
Belize2,2961,65372.561226.70.00.0
Bolivia109,85858,74054.229,36026.7-6.5-6.5
Brazil851,488477,69857.2415,89048.8-8.1-9.7
Colombia113,89160,72858.553,06246.6-1.2-1.5
Costa Rica5,1102,39146.81803.5-6.7-29.4
Ecuador28,35610,85339.24,79416.9-21.50.0
El Salvador2,10429814.460.3-20.50.0
French Guiana9,0008,06391.87,70185.6-0.3-2.6
Guatemala10,8893,93836.31,95718.0-17.1-17.0
Guyana21,49715,10476.79,31443.30.0n/a
Honduras11,2094,64841.51,51213.5-37.10.0
Mexico195,82064,23833.732,85016.8-6.9-15.3
Nicaragua13,0005,18942.71,84914.2-20.60.0
Panama7,5524,29457.73,02340.0-1.9-18.4
Peru128,52268,74253.761,06547.5-2.0-2.9
Suriname16,32714,77694.714,21487.10.00.0
Venezuela91,20547,71354.1-n/a-8.3n/a
Total Caribbean23,4825,97426.10.011.7n/a
Total Central America52,16022,41143.90.0-18.9n/a
Total South America1,783,770831,54047.70.0-6.7n/a


Recent articles | Latin America news updates | XML

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.


Mining activist released after being charged with terrorism, rebellion in Ecuador
(02/11/2015) Yesterday, mining and environmental activist, Javier Ramírez, walked out of an Ecuadorian courtroom with his freedom. Ramírez, who has long fought against a massive state-owned massive copper mine in the cloud forest village of Junin, was arrested in April last year and subsequently charged with rebellion, sabotage, and terrorism among other thing.


The Amazon's oil boom: concessions cover a Chile-sized bloc of rainforest
(02/04/2015) Hungry for oil revenue, governments and fossil fuel companies are moving even further into one of the world's last great wildernesses, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The total area set aside for oil and gas in the Western Amazon has grown by 150,000 square kilometers since 2008, now totaling more than 730,000 square kilometers—an area the size of Chile.


Mercury fish: gold mining puts downstream communities at risk in Peru
(02/02/2015) Artisanal, often illegal gold-mining, has swept across portions of the Peruvian Amazon over last decade, driven in part by a rising price in gold. The unregulated industry has resulted in widespread deforestation leading to an environmental disaster. Now a new study finds that mercury pollution has moved rapidly downstream and could be impacting communities at least 560 kilometers away.


Video: camera trap catches jaguar hunting peccaries
(01/26/2015) Catching a jaguar on a remote camera trap in the Amazon is a rare, happy sight. But catching a jaguar attempting to ambush a herd of peccaries is quite simply astonishing.


Brazil's soy moratorium dramatically reduced Amazon deforestation
(01/23/2015) The moratorium on forest conversion established by Brazilian soy giants in 2006 dramatically reduce deforestation for soy expansion in the Amazon, and have been more effective in cutting forest destruction than the government's land use policy in the region, finds a study published today in the journal Science.


Road building spree hurts Amazon birds
(01/14/2015) A city-dwelling crow in Japan strategically drops a nut near a crosswalk into moving traffic. The bird then waits patiently for the light to turn before dropping down to the road and collecting the cracked nut in safety. While this type of animal behavior is fascinating, such adaptation to the human world is not possible for most bird species.


Deforestation climbing - along with fears - in the Amazon
(01/13/2015) Deforestation in the Brazil Amazon continues to pace well ahead of last year's rate, shows data released today by Imazon. According to the Brazilian NGO's analysis of satellite data, 1,373 square kilometers of rainforest was chopped down between August 2014 and December 2014, a 224 percent increase relative to the prior corresponding period a year before.


Peru’s first environment minister dies at 74
(01/07/2015) Born to a poor family of coffee farmers on the western slopes of the Andes in 1940, Antonio Brack Egg became one of Peru’s most respected ecologists and led the country in protecting its profound biodiversity. Completing his doctorate at the university of Wurzburg, Germany in 1973, Brack Egg started his life of Peruvian public service with the Ministry of Agriculture, working to reestablish threatened populations of vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), a relative of the llama, honored as Peru’s national animal.


Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2014
(12/29/2014) In what was widely seen as a possible breakthrough in the battle to coordinate some kind of response to global warming, China and the U.S. announced joint actions this year. On November 12th, the world's two most powerful countries surprised pretty much everyone by announcing that they would work together to tackle the crisis.


Ecuador sends aid money back to Germany over planned rainforest visit
(12/23/2014) A visit to a rainforest slated for oil drilling has blown up into a diplomatic row between Ecuador and Germany. Ecuador has said it will no longer partner with Germany on environmental issues and will return aid money, after the South American government discovered that German legislators were attempting to visit the much-embattled Yasuni National Park.


Amazonian peatlands store mega carbon
(12/17/2014) Peatlands in the Peruvian Amazon store ten times the amount of carbon as undisturbed rainforest in adjacent areas, making them critical in the battle to fight climate change, finds a new study published in Environmental Research Letters.


False victories for sustainability – Amazonian Hydropower
(12/09/2014) Dams are hugely controversial, especially in the Amazon Rainforest. Their proponents, flashing green credentials, have dammed the tributaries of the Amazon for decades. However, there is a rising backlash against the huge economical, environmental, and sociological costs dams bring. A paper led by Dr. James Randall Kahn from Washington and Lee University is the latest in this volley.


Indigenous leader murdered before he could attend Climate Summit
(12/08/2014) Days before José Isidro Tendetza Antún was supposed to travel to the UN Climate Summit in Lima to publicly file a complaint against a massive mining operation, he went missing. Now, the Guardian reports that the body of the Shuar indigenous leader has been found, bound and buried in an unmarked grave on the banks of the Zamora River.


Initiative to restore 50M acres of degraded Latin American ecosystems by 2020
(12/07/2014) A coalition of governments and organizations today pledged to restore 20 million hectares (50 million acres) of degraded forests and ecosystems across Latin America by 2020 under an initiative that aims to curb boost rural incomes, fight climate change, and increase agricultural production. The effort is backed by $365 million from five impact investors.


Giant stone face unveiled in the Amazon rainforest (video)
(12/04/2014) A new short film documents the journey of an indigenous tribe hiking deep into their territory in the Peruvian Amazon to encounter a mysterious stone countenance that was allegedly carved by ancient peoples. According to Handcrafted Films, which produced the documentary entitled The Reunion, this was the first time the Rostro Harakbut has been filmed.


Island terror attack shuts Colombia's renowned 'blue lizard' park
(11/29/2014) A terror attack by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on facilities on the island of Gorgona has prompted Colombian officials to close the World Heritage site "indefinitely" to tourists. Aviatur, Colombia’s largest tourism operator which operates the only lodge on Gorgona, shortly thereafter announced it was suspending all operations on the island.


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.


Rising deforestation, fossil fuels use drive Brazil's emissions 8% higher
(11/24/2014) Brazil's carbon emissions jumped 7.8 percent in 2013 due to rising deforestation and fossil fuels use, according to data released by Observatório do Clima (Climate Observatory), an alliance of mostly Brazilian non-profits.


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.





Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]

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Last updated: 7 Feb 2006






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