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.
Nearly a thousand environmental activists murdered since 2002
(04/15/2014) At least 908 people were murdered for taking a stand to defend the environment between 2002 and 2013, according to a new report today from Global Witness, which shows a dramatic uptick in the murder rate during the past four years. Notably, the report appears on the same day that another NGO, Survival International, released a video of a gunman terrorizing a Guarani indigenous community in Brazil.
Saving rainforests by buying them
(04/04/2014) For more than twenty five years, an international non-profit known as the World Land Trust has been working to protect tropical forests through land purchase and partnerships with local groups. Last year, the U.S. arm of the group decided to rebrand itself as the Rainforest Trust to better convey its core mission to the outside world. Since then, the Rainforest Trust has launched its most ambitious project yet: conserving 5.9 million acres of tropical forest in Peru.
Featured video: celebrities speak out for Yasuni
(04/02/2014) A group of celebrities, including recent Academy Award winner Jared Leto, Law and Order's Benjamin Bratt, and Kill Bill's Daryl Hannah, have lent their voices to a new Public Service Announcement to raise signatures to protect Ecuador's Yasuni National Park from oil drilling.
Chile turns to owls to combat fatal disease
(04/01/2014) This year the Hanta virus has already caused 15 deaths in Chile, according to reports in The Santiago Times. It isn't always fatal—the 15 deaths were of a total of 36 cases over six months—but the symptoms are severe. Those affected experience flu-like symptoms, as well as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and trouble breathing. But now Chile is using a novel method to fight the disease: owls.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Quantifying the cost of forest degradation
(03/27/2014) How much is a forest really worth? And what is the cost of forest degradation? These values are difficult to estimate, but according to Dr. Phillip Fearnside, we need to do a better job. For nearly forty years, Fearnside has lived in Amazonia doing ecological research, looking at the value of forests in terms of environmental or ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water cycling, and biodiversity preservation. Fearnside then works to convert these services into a basis for sustainable development for rural populations.
Bizarre, endangered bird discovered in high densities
(03/24/2014) The turkey-sized, noisy, fruit-feasting guans are arguably one of the strangest wildlife sightings in the tropical forests of Central and South America. Ancient animals, these birds are members of the Cracidae family—which also include equally-odd currasows and chachalacas—and are actually distantly related to megapode, or mound-building, birds of Australiasia. A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science looks at a particularly endangered guan: the Cauca gaun (Penelope perspicax).
Scientist discovers a plethora of new praying mantises (pictures)
(03/19/2014) Despite their pacific name, praying mantises are ferocious top predators with powerful, grasping forelimbs; spiked legs; and mechanistic jaws. In fact, imagine a tiger that can rotate its head 180 degrees or a great white that blends into the waves and you'll have a sense of why praying mantises have developed a reputation. Yet, many praying mantis species remain little known to scientists, according to a new paper in ZooKeys that identifies an astounding 19 new species from the tropical forests of Central and South America.
Several Amazonian tree frog species discovered, where only two existed before
(03/18/2014) We have always been intrigued by the Amazon rainforest with its abundant species richness and untraversed expanses. Despite our extended study of its wildlife, new species such as the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), a bear-like carnivore hiding out in the Ecuadorian rainforest, are being identified as recently as last year. In fact, the advent of efficient DNA sequencing and genomic analysis has revolutionized how we think about species diversity. Today, scientists can examine known diversity in a different way, revealing multiple 'cryptic' species that have evaded discovery by being mistakenly classified as a single species based on external appearance alone.
Mother of God: meet the 26 year old Indiana Jones of the Amazon, Paul Rosolie
(03/17/2014) Not yet 30, Paul Rosolie has already lived a life that most would only dare dream of—or have nightmares over, depending on one's constitution. With the Western Amazon as his panorama, Rosolie has faced off jaguars, wrestled anacondas, explored a floating forest, mentored with indigenous people, been stricken by tropical disease, traveled with poachers, and hand-reared a baby anteater. It's no wonder that at the ripe age of 26, Rosolie was already written a memoir: Mother of God.
Cocaine: the new face of deforestation in Central America
(03/11/2014) In 2006, Mexico intensified its security strategy, forming an inhospitable environment for drug trafficking organizations (also known as DTOs) within the nation. The drug cartels responded by creating new trade routes along the border of Guatemala and Honduras. Soon shipments of cocaine from South America began to flow through the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC). This multi-national swathe of forest, encompassing several national parks and protected areas, was originally created to protect endangered species, such as Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) and jaguar (Panthera onca), as well as the world's second largest coral reef. Today, its future hinges on the world's drug producers and consumers.
The price of gold: winners and losers in Latin America's mining industry
(03/05/2014) On a Friday afternoon in June, the Plaza de Armas in Cajamarca is pulsing with life. It's winter here, and although thick white clouds hover low in the distance, the sun in this northern Peruvian city is warm. Couples sit on benches facing one another. Kids run in the grass between flowerbeds. Men in suits stride along the perimeter. It's an idyllic day. But signs of something more ominous are not far from sight. On the mountainside overlooking the town the words Nova Conga have been carved into the vegetation. It is a constant reminder that beyond the square, hemmed with international hotels and expensive restaurants, there is another reality.
Is Brazil's epic drought a taste of the future?
(02/25/2014) With more than 140 cities implementing water rationing, analysts warning of collapsing soy and coffee exports, and reservoirs and rivers running precipitously low, talk about the World Cup in some parts of Brazil has been sidelined by concerns about an epic drought affecting the country's agricultural heartland.
Nicaragua Canal could cause ecological disaster, warn experts
(02/20/2014) Nicaragua's plans for a canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans could trigger an environmental disaster through habitat destruction and alteration, introduction of non-native species, pollution, and sedimentation, warns a commentary published in this week's issue of Nature.
The making of Amazon Gold: once more unto the breach
(02/19/2014) When Sarah duPont first visited the Peruvian Amazon rainforest in the summer of 1999, it was a different place than it is today. Oceans of green, tranquil forest, met the eye at every turn. At dawn, her brain struggled to comprehend the onslaught of morning calls and duets of the nearly 600 species of birds resounding under the canopy. Today, the director of the new award-winning film, Amazon Gold, reports that "roads have been built and people have arrived. It has become a new wild west, a place without law. People driven by poverty and the desire for a better life have come, exploiting the sacred ground."
Helping the Amazon's 'Jaguar People' protect their culture and traditional wisdom
(02/11/2014) Tribes in the Amazon are increasingly exposed to the outside world by choice or circumstance. The fallout of outside contact has rarely been anything less than catastrophic, resulting in untold extinction of hundreds of tribes over the centuries. For ones that survived the devastation of introduced disease and conquest, the process of acculturation transformed once proud cultures into fragmented remnants, their self-sufficiency and social cohesion stripped away, left to struggle in a new world marked by poverty and external dependence
Gas company to drill in Manu National Park buffer zone, imperiling indigenous people
(02/04/2014) The Peruvian government has approved plans for gas company Pluspetrol to move deeper into a supposedly protected reserve for indigenous peoples and the buffer zone of the Manu National Park in the Amazon rainforest. The approval follows the government rescinding a highly critical report on the potential impacts of the operations by the Culture Ministry (MINCU), the resignation of the Culture Minister and other Ministry personnel, and repeated criticism from Peruvian and international civil society.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Connecting forest fragments
(01/31/2014) Dr. Stuart Pimm is an expert in extinctions: why they happen, how fast they happen, and how they can be prevented. Reconnecting forest fragments and avoiding fragmentation, according to Pimm, are among the most crucial things we can do to conserve global biodiversity. His organization SavingSpecies identifies areas at-risk for extinctions and helps local organizations fundraise so they can protect and restore habitats and safeguard biodiversity.
287 amphibian and reptile species in Peruvian park sets world record (photos)
(01/28/2014) It's official: Manu National Park in Peru has the highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the world. Surveys of the park, which extends from high Andean cloud forests down into the tropical rainforest of the Western Amazon, and its buffer zone turned up 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species, 16 more than the 271 species documented in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park in 2010.
New dolphin discovered in the Amazon surprises scientists
(01/23/2014) Researchers have discovered a new species of river dolphin from the Amazon. Writing in the journal Plos One, scientists led by Tomas Hrbek of Brazil's Federal University of Amazonas formally describe Inia araguaiaensis, a freshwater dolphin that inhabits the Araguaia River Basin. It is the first true river dolphin discovered since 1918.
One lizard, four species: the collared treerunner
(01/21/2014) Now, that’s a horse of a different color. Or, in this case, a lizard of another species--four species. Recent research suggests that the collared treerunner (Plica plica), previously thought of as one widespread species, is actually four distinct species inhabiting diverse geographical areas east of the Andes in northern South America.
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.