Tropical rain forests are areas located on or near the equator. Over half of the worldÂ’s tropical rain forests are located in Central and South America.
Think about a place where the air is warm and moist, where tree cover blocks sunlight from the ground, and where all kinds of strange and wonderful animals live. Such places do exist. They are called tropical rain forests, and they are among the most valuable resources on our planet.
Tropical rain forests are areas located on or near the equator. Over half of the world’s tropical rain forests are located in Central and South America. The rest are located in Africa and Southeast Asia. The name rain forest comes from the large amount of rain these areas receive each year – up to 400 inches in some places.
The Benefits of the Rain Forests
Although rain forests cover less than 10 percent of the earth, they provide most of the oxygen needed to sustain life on earth. They are home to about 50 percent of all the world’s trees and at least 40 percent of the world’s total plant and animal life. There are no other places on earth that have a higher degree of plant and animal diversity.
Rain forests are a bit like a living laboratory. Certain chemical compounds, found no place else on earth, are found in the rain forests. Researchers are constantly searching the rain forests for new chemical compounds that might someday prove beneficial to humans.
Some of the rain forest compounds such as curare are already being used to help people. Curare is a poison taken from the bark and sap of trees in South America. At one time it was used by hunters to paralyze their prey. Now it is used by doctors to relax the muscles of patients during surgery. Who knows what other wonder drugs may yet be discovered in the world’s tropical rain forests?
Farm or Forests
Until recently, nobody thought much about rain forests. A few small groups of people lived in them. And once in a while, a scientist or two would venture through them. But for the most part, rain forests were unexplored. Millions of plants and animals lived out their life cycles there without any interference from the outside world.
As the world’s population grew, however, all that changed. Farmers began to move into the rain forests. In order to grow crops and graze cattle, these farmers cleared many acres of rain forest. Unfortunately, the soil is not well suited for farming. It quickly loses its fertility and is unable to sustain crops or cattle.
Farmers found that they needed to constantly clear more and more acres to keep their farms going. Meanwhile, other people moved into the rain forests. Loggers began to harvest the valuable hardwood trees found there. Miners began to collect valuable minerals, including iron, aluminum, copper, oil, natural gas, and gold. With all this development came roads, such as the Trans-Amazon Highway in Brazil. Road-building projects brought even more human activity into the rain forests.
At first, rain forest development seemed like a good thing. After all, it meant that people were finding new ways to use the earth’s resources. After a while, though, people began to realize the negative impact of these actions. Recent estimates indicate that as much as 50 million acres of rain forest are being cut down each year. Countless species of plants and animals are also being destroyed. As these facts have become more widely known, there has been a growing movement to save the rain forests from further destruction.
Saving the Rain Forests
Once again, cooperation is the key. In the case of the rain forests, the cooperation has been worldwide. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund have coordinated efforts to preserve rain forests.
Some groups, such as the Cousteau Society, have emphasized education. Others, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, have raised money to set up rain forest preserves. And people around the world have joined by recycling and reducing the use of products that come from the rain forests. We, too, can join them and help save the rain forests by recycling and using eco-friendly products.
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