Forests around the world in Central America, South America and Asia have lost as much as 90 percent of their trees as land is cleared for agriculture, the building of roads and economic development. In fact, scientists estimate that, due to deforestation, 1 out of 5 species of lizards, reptiles and snakes could go extinct.
A 2011 United Nations report said that, since 2011, more than 3,000 square miles of Columbia’s forests have been illegally cut down to clear land for coca crops. Organized crime has been implicated in the illegal timber trade which is thought to be worth 30 to 100 billion dollars a year. As Elizabeth F. Ralph writes in Foreign Policy,
According to a recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report, in Laos, rare rosewood logs can fetch $18,000 per cubic meter. The EIA also notes that traffickers can earn $1,700 for a high-quality mahogany tree on the Peruvian black market, and about $1,000 for a cedar tree. In 2006, illegal logging in Peru was bringing up to $72 million in profits per year. Some estimates put the yearly profits in Columbia as high as $200 million.
The EIA claims that China imports the largest amount of illegal timber. Some think that China’s growing middle class with its appetite for “fancy rosewood lounge sets” and cars with wood-adorned interiors could be driving the illegal timber trade, even as a desire for exotic wildlife and body parts of animals has led to declining numbers of endangered species such as sharks.
Anti-logging activists including Cambodian Chut Wutty and many from Brazil have lost their lives defending the forests. Here are five forests who have lost far more than half of their trees with some reduced to a mere 5 percent of what they once were.
1) East African Coastal Forests
The East African Coastal Forests extend from Southern Somalia through Kenya and Tanzania, to Southern Mozambique and include tropical dry forests as well as savannas, grasslands and wetlands. Today, only 10 percent of the forest remains.
Throughout Africa, deforestation is occurring at twice the rate as other parts of the world, the result of climate change, pollution and expanding cities. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Nigeria and Rwanda have all seen significant losses to their forests; one report says that nearly 90 percent of the original moist forests are gone in West Africa.
2) The Mountains of Southwest China
This region of coniferous forests, home to the golden monkey, the giant panda, the red panda and other threatened wildlife, has only 8 percent of its trees left. It is considered a biodiversity hotspot. Despite so little of the original forest cover remaining, the region contains 50 percent of China’s birds and mammals as well as cultural diversity, as members of 17 of China’s 55 ethnic minority groups reside here.
3) The Atlantic Forest of South America
This region (stretching from Brazil into Argentina and Paraguay) is home to some of the earth’s most diverse ecosystems with 20,000 species of plants and thousands of wildlife species including jaguars, golden lion tamarins, woolly spider monkeys and maned three-toed sloths. As in southwestern China, the region’s original forests are heavily fragmented — only 8 percent remain — and considered some of the most vulnerable in the world.
4) Indo-Burma Forests
Extending from eastern India to the Malay Peninsula and including Laos (in the photo), Thailand and Cambodia, this region is another biodiversity hotspot. It is home to 1,300 bird species and new animal species are still being discovered in its 2 million kilometers. It is home to gibbons, Kitti’s hog-nosed bat (one of the smallest mammals in the world — it’s the size of a bumblebee) and freshwater turtles. 95 percent of the forests’ original rain forests have been lost as land is cleared for teak plantations and other development. Aquatic ecosytems are also endangered as freshwater swamps and wetlands have been destroyed for rice cultivation.
5) California Floristic Province Forests
Located in Oregon, California and Baja California in Mexico, the California Floristic Province has a Mediterranean-like climate that is home to the giant sequoia (the largest living organism on the planet) and the coastal redwoods. It is also the largest breeding ground for birds in the U.S. and home to threatened species including the giant kangaroo rat and the desert slender salamander. Pollution, road construction and the expansion of urban centers have resulted in only 24.7 percent of the original vegetation still being in its original, pristine condition.
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