The situation of rainforests

There are a large number of natural and human-induced factors that impact on rain forests. Cyclones, forest fires, disease, landslides, and other natural factors are now of rather minimal influence compared to human deforestation, such as that caused by logging, road building, building dams and highways mining, and large-scale clearing for cattle pasture and other agricultural crops. Traditional societies practised slash-and-burn cultivation where only relatively small areas were cleared. When the nutrients in the soils were depleted after two or three years, the plot was abandoned and another cleared. Because the plots were small they would be quickly recolonized by the surrounding forest after abandonment. The large-scale clearing that now takes place in nearly all rain forest areas is of such an extent that hundreds of years would probably be needed for natural recovery to produce anything similar to the original vegetation. As the ecosystem shrinks, more and more species lose the resources that they need to survive.

Oil drilling

Oil drilling is one of the main reasons that rainforests around the world are being destroyed. Oil companies go to the rainforest to drill for oil that is found beneath the ground. This oil or petroleum comes from the fossils of dinosaurs and plants that lived on earth millions of years ago. It then gets made into fossil fuels, including oil, gas, and coal. Oil is also used to make plastic bags, bottles, and cups, and synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon.

Large oil companies use millions of acres of rainforest to get oil. They want this oil so they can sell it to make a lot of money. There is nothing wrong with making money, but when oil companies destroy the rainforests to make money they destroy not only the trees, but also the lives of the animals and people who live in the rainforest.

Oil drilling hurts the rainforests because many trees are chopped down to make room for oil roads, oil pipelines, and oil machinery. When these trees are destroyed, all the animals that lived in those trees or depended on them for food are suddenly homeless. Without their forest home, many animal species face extinction, which means they could disappear forever like the dinosaurs.

Another problem is that when companies drill for oil in the rainforests, the oil often gets spilled onto the soil and into the rivers and streams. This poisons the water and the homeland of the people who live in the rainforest. Many of these indigenous people-people whose families have lived in the rainforest for thousands of years-become very sick from the pollution. Some of these indigenous people even die because of oil drilling in their homeland.

Not only does oil drilling poison the land and rivers in the rainforest, but it also creates air pollution once it's turned into gasoline. Burning fossil fuels like gasoline by driving cars, buses and airplanes, makes our air very dirty and unhealthy to breathe. Many people around the world get sick from breathing in too much of this smog or dirty air.

Burning oil and gasoline also makes the planet get warmer, which is a very big problem. This global warming creates climate change. This means that weather patterns around the world start to change in dangerous ways. Winters get colder, summers get hotter, and hurricanes and tornadoes get fiercer and more frequent.

Cattle ranching

One of the main causes of rainforest destruction in Central and South America is cattle ranching. Cattle ranchers slash and burn the rainforest to make room for cattle pastures. First, the ranchers cut down the trees and set the forest on fire. Then they plant grass and bring in cows to feed on the grass. When the cows are grown, they are slaughtered and turned into cheap beef. The beef is used in fast-food hamburgers, frozen meat products, and canned pet food.

It takes a lot of rainforest land, water, and energy to make a fast-food hamburger. As a matter of fact, fifty-five square feet of rainforest is destroyed for every quarter pound hamburger that comes from a cleared rainforest. That's the size of a small kitchen! Not only that, but since the soil in the rainforest does not contain many nutrients, after a few years of cattle ranching it becomes very difficult to grow anything on the land¡X even grass. What was once a beautiful, lush, living rainforest becomes a dry, desert-like wasteland. When this happens, even more rainforest is slashed and burned for cattle ranching.

Clearing the rainforest to produce beef also destroys the homes of the animals that live in the rainforest. Without their rainforest homes, many of these animals simply cannot survive and may become extinct. When an animal becomes extinct, it disappears forever like the dinosaurs.

Raising cattle for beef not only damages the rainforests in Central and South America, it also impacts the environment closer to home. Over half of the water used in the United States goes to beef production. In fact, it takes an average of 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of red meat. That's as much water as a typical family uses in a month! With the amount of water it takes to produce one pound of red meat, farmers can grow up to one hundred pounds of grain, which makes a lot of bread, pasta, and cereal. One pound of beef can only feed four people for one lunch, whereas one hundred pounds of grain can feed four people for a month!

Raising cows for beef¡Xwhether in rainforest countries or the United States¡Xalso adds to climate change or global warming. It takes a lot of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gasoline) to raise cows, slaughter them, freeze the meat, ship it overseas or across the country, and then transport it to grocery stores and restaurants. The burning of fossil fuels creates a greenhouse gas called carbon dioxide. When cows digest their food, they also release a greenhouse gas called methane. These greenhouse gases trap heat from the sun close to the Earth's surface. When too much heat is trapped, it causes the planet to warm up, which in turn causes dangerous changes in the weather. For instance, less rain may fall in the rainforests, making it difficult for all the trees, plants, and animals that depend on rain to survive. Climate change is a very big problem facing the rainforests and our planet. We must do all we can to stop it from getting worse. One easy way to do that is to eat less red meat!


Wood is something we all use in our daily lives. Wood gets made into things like paper products, furniture, buildings, pencils, rayon fabric, photographic film, and even food additives that end up in cheeses, cake mixes, and ice cream! Much of the wood we use for these products comes from very old trees that live in ancient rainforests. These ancient, or old growth, rainforests have been standing for hundreds and even thousands of years. They are home to millions of types of animals, plants, insects-and even people! When old growth forests get logged to make wood products for us to use, many animal species lose their home, or habitat. Sometimes these animal species become extinct, which means they disappear forever like the dinosaurs. Many native or indigenous peoples also lose their land where their families have lived for thousands of years.

Some logging companies say that they replant the trees they cut. While planting trees is always a good thing to do, we must remember that planting trees in an area that's been clearcut (this means that almost every single tree in the area was cut down) is not the same as planting a forest. A forest is much more than just the trees it contains. While it is possible for a company to replant trees, it is impossible for the company to replant an ancient forest full of all the plants, animals, insects, and people that once lived there.

Rainforests are being destroyed at a staggering rate. According to the National Academy of Science, at least 50 million acres a year are lost. Each second a rainforest area the size of a football field is destroyed or damaged. All the primary rainforests in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Haiti have been destroyed already. The Ivory Coast rainforests have been almost completely logged. The Philippines and Thailand lost 55% and 45% of its forest between 1960 and 1985 respectively. Four-fifths of the nutrients in the rainforests are in the vegetation. This means that the soils are nutrient-poor and become eroded and unproductive within a few years after the rainforest is cleared.


Bolivia (1,098,581) 90,000 45,000 1,500 (2.1%)
Brazil (8,511,960) 2,860,000 1,800,000 50,000 (2.3%)
C. America (522,915) 500,000 55,000 3,300 (3.7%)
Columbia (1,138,891) 700,000 180,000 6,500 (2.3%)
Congo (342,000) 100,000 80,000 700 (.8%)
Ecuador (270,670) 132,000 44,000 3,000 (4.0%)
Indonesia (1,919,300) 1,220,000 530,000 12,000 (1.4%)
Cote D'Ivoire (322,463) 160,000 4,000 2,500 (15.6%)
Laos (236,800) 110,000 25,000 1,000 (1.5%)
Madagascar (590,992) 62,000 10,000 2,000 (8.3%)
Mexico (1,967,180) 400,000 110,000 7,000 (4.2%)
Nigeria (924,000) 72,000 10,000 4,000 (14.3%)
Philippines (299,400) 250,000 8,000 2,700 (5.4%)
Thailand (513,517) 435,000 22,000 6,000 (8.4%)

The Earth's species are also dying out at an alarming rate, up to 1000 times faster than their natural rate of extinction. By carefully examining fossil records and ecosystem destruction, some scientists estimate that as many as 137 species disappear from the Earth each day, which adds up to an astounding 50,000 species disappearing every year. 

When rainforests are destroyed, animals living outside the tropics suffer as well. Songbirds, hummingbirds, warblers and thousands of other North American birds spend their winters in rainforests, returning to the same location year after year. Less return north each spring, as few make it through the winter because their habitat has been destroyed. Pollution from mining has killed fish populations in the mighty Amazon River. Many Indigenous people, who have depended on these fish for centuries, have become sick from the poisoned fish. For some species, especially those known to exist only in limited, specific areas, measuring the destruction rates of their habitat can lead to estimates of the species' extinction rates. Many of these projected extinctions can be turned around, however, but only with restoration of the habitats.

BULLDOZERMany indigenous people survive directly off of the resources found in the rainforests. They eat wild game, use the plants for food and medicine, and may identify certain species as a sacred and essential part of their heritage. When these resources are destroyed, the people lose their homes, their food, and their very culture. And they may be forced to look to protected, endangered areas of forest for shelter and food, leading to further destruction and extinction.

Introduced species also wipe out many indigenous species. Nearly 20% of known endangered vertebrates are threatened by introduced species. When humans bring an alien species into an ecosystem, that species may take over niches that other species had occupied. They also might change the ecosystem enough to indirectly force out native species or bring with them diseases to which the natives have no immunity. Especially on islands, where species have evolved in isolation and have not dealt with adapting to newcomers, the original inhabitants may be unable to adapt and survive.

Over-consumption and international trade further endanger certain species. In Africa, commercial hunting is responsible for putting 1/3 of the currently threatened primary forest at risk. Species populations can also shrink when local people are forced by habitat destruction to rely on a smaller area for their food needs, or when a certain species becomes popular on the international market. People trap or kill animals and ship them to other countries, where they are taken as pets or used to make other products. Once a species becomes rare or protected, the profit in smuggling can increase; international illegal wildlife trade is a $2-3 billion a year business.


class critically endangered endangered vulnerable total threatened extinct
Mammals 169 315 612 1096 89
Birds 168 235 704 1107 108
Reptiles 41 59 153 253 21
Amphibians 18 31 75 124 5
Insects 44 116 377 537 73
Other animals 471 423 1194 2088 343

Tropical rainforests contain at least half of the Earth's species. The incredible diversity of the rainforests means that most species have evolved to inhabit very specialized niches in their environment; when humans disrupt that environment, many species cannot survive. Because species depend on each other in a complicated web of relationships, changing just one part of that web harms the entire ecosystem: as people destroy or significantly change the rainforests, certain species die out, and as they go extinct, other species die out, which in turn leads to further breakdown of the ecosystem. This breakdown of rainforest ecosystems will likely lead to the disappearance of up to 10% of the world's species within the next 25 years unless we act to stop it.

The six hottest years of the century occurred in the last decade, and global temperatures are beginning to rise. This appears to be the result of the greenhouse effect caused by the millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) we discharge into the atmosphere. Tropical rainforests are especially good at trapping CO2. Yet trees that are cut down cannot act as carbon traps, and when they are burned more carbon is released into the air which of course magnifies the problem.


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