Fight for the Forests
Deforestation is accelerating climate change and the extinction of wildlife. These are the stories of the people fighting to save the trees.
About 'Fight for the Forests'
Around the world, millions of acres of forest are falling to the ax and torch every year, cleared for palm oil, soybeans, cattle, and timber to make the products that stock supermarket shelves and fill furniture stores. TakePart journeys deep into the woods to report on the fight for the trees and the people and wildlife that depend on healthy forests.
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As the world’s woodlands are damaged or destroyed, many wild species are facing existential threats. Here are 10 animals that deforestation is putting at risk.
Golden Lion Tamarin
Native to lowland rainforests of southeastern Brazil, these long-furred primates are at risk of extinction owing to loss of their forest habitat and severe fragmentation of what remains. There are around 1,500 in the wild, some of them descendants of tamarins bred in captivity and reintroduced to help the species recover.
Around 32,000 caribou inhabit about 1.5 million square miles of Canada’s boreal forest. That’s a lot of room to run, but it’s less than half the area they roamed in the 19th century, when boreal caribou numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Their population continues to decline with the destruction of the forest for mining, oil and gas development, and logging. This decrease led the Canadian government to declare the species endangered in 2012.
Cross River Gorilla
Status: Critically endangered
Native to the rainforests and lowland montane forests of Nigeria and Cameroon, this gorilla is losing its habitat to logging and forest clearing for livestock pastures and agriculture. Only 100 to 200 remain over about 3,000 square miles of territory. Roads built to facilitate development have also given poachers easier access to the gorillas.
Maned sloths spend their lives in the trees, munching twigs, leaves, and buds. It’s no myth that sloths are slow movers: The average sloth covers about 40 yards a day and is awake for only four to nine hours. Sloths are native to the Atlantic Forest of eastern Brazil, which has nearly vanished to make room for grazing, coal mines, and other development. Only 7 percent of the Atlantic Forest remains in Central and South America.
Milne Edwards Sportive Lemur
The population of this lemur, which is native to the deciduous forests of western Madagascar, has dropped by about 50 percent. The cause is habitat loss: the burning of forest to clear land for livestock grazing.
Asian Crested Ibis
This beautiful bird was once abundant across eastern Eurasia and Asia, but loss of its woodland and wetland habitats, along with overhunting, drove the species to the brink of extinction. By 1981, the remaining wild population was down to just seven birds in one forested area of Shaanxi province in central China. Current estimates put the population at around 500 in China, and efforts are under way to reintroduce a captive-bred population to the wild in Japan.
As tropical evergreen forests in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia have fallen to road building, plantations, and other development, this gibbon’s numbers have declined. The Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area in eastern Cambodia and surrounding forests are home to what may be the single largest remaining population—between 2,600 and 3,400 groups of three to five gibbons each. At Seima, conservationists are collaborating with local communities to enforce anti-logging laws, monitor wildlife, protect local land rights, and improve household incomes in ways that sustain the forest.
Status: Near threatened
Jaguars are the biggest of the big cats in the Americas: Fully grown males weigh in at 250 pounds. They were once found from the tip of South America to the southern United States, but loss of woodland habitat has reduced their range to central and northern South America, and deforestation remains the biggest risk to the animals’ survival. There are an estimated 15,000 jaguars in the wild today.
The okapi, a horse-size relative of the giraffe, has been a protected species in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1933. But logging of its equatorial rainforest habitat, poaching, and mining have cut okapi numbers more than 50 percent in the past two decades. Breeding programs at dozens of zoos are helping to conserve the species. The rainforest of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in northeastern Congo is also home to a number of species at risk of extinction, including chimpanzees, forest elephants, and leopards.
Northern Spotted Owl
Status: Near threatened
As logging destroyed and fragmented the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, spotted owls declined. While national forests are now spared, logging on private lands continues to eat into spotted owl habitat, and the barred owl is outcompeting the spotted owl for prey and nesting space. There are an estimated 2,800 nesting pairs in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.