The Amazon is the world’s largest and most famous rainforest. The Amazon River Basin (known as “Amazonia”) is roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States (the United States not including Alaska and Hawaii) and includes parts of eight South American countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname. The basin is drained by the Amazon River, the world’s largest river.
Plants and animals
The Amazon is home to more species of plants and animals than any other ecosystem on the planet. Some of the better known animals found in the Amazon include the jaguar; the tapir; the capybara, a giant aquatic rodent; and many kinds of monkeys and parrots.
The Amazon also supports large populations of indigenous peoples, who are made up of many tribes. Some tribes live lives similar to people in rural areas or cities in other parts of the world, while some live in total isolation from the outside world. How indigenous peoples live depends on their location, history, and other factors.
Today most indigenous peoples in the Amazon, sometimes called Amerindians, have been impacted by the outside world. Groups that live in areas with regular outside contact often still use on the forest for traditional hunting and gathering, but grow crops (like bananas, manioc, and rice), use modern goods (like metal pots, pans, and utensils), and make trips to towns and cities to trade for things that aren’t available in their communities.
Nearly 20 percent of the Amazon has been destroyed over the past 40 years. Most forest clearing has been to establish pasture for cattle ranching, but logging, subsistence farming, large-scale (industrial) agriculture, and forest fires also cause deforestation.
Today deforestation rates are generally lower in the Amazon than they were 20 years ago. However they have been rising since 2012. There are several reasons why rainforest destruction fell in the Amazon:
- Satellite monitoring enables authorities to see where deforestation is occurring so they can potentially take action to stop it;
- Large areas have been set aside in protected areas and indigenous territories, which have lower rates of deforestation than unprotected areas;
- Activists, environmentalists, and indigenous rights advocates have put pressure on companies and governments who cause deforestation; and
- Some countries have improved environmental law enforcement, fining or arresting people who illegal cut down or burn rainforests
What you can do to protect the Amazon
You can help protect the Amazon. Some ideas:
- Be informed. For example, the Mongabay news site offers regular updates on what’s happening the Amazon.
- Think about the potential impacts of the products you and your family consume. For example, before buying a wood product, ask where that wood came from. The same goes for soybeans and beef.
- Support groups that are working to protect the Amazon rainforest and help indigenous peoples secure rights to their traditional lands.