Think about the fact that most political decisions don't last too long. Political systems come and go, even horrible wars' effects are gone in a few generations, but if you don't conserve, the effects will last forever. This is probably the biggest and most rapid phase of extinction that has ever seen before. As in, to what we're doing now, the dinosaurs all being wiped out was nothing! And it's different because it's not due to natural forces. We're changing the environment so quickly and so drastically that things can't adapt quickly enough to it.
"All discussion about Africa must begin and end with a recognition, however grim, of the continent's underdevelopment and poverty."
--John Bonner, 1993
Low reproductive potential: Take for example the chimp; they only produce a baby every 5-6 years, and there's a very high infant mortality- 50% die in their first two years. This means that populations can't bounce back very quickly. Also, they live in low population densities, so to save a large population you need a lot of ground!
This is much less selective in that it affects several species
in a single area. It is also irreversible; you can't captive breed
rainforests. If you deplete an animal's population (without making them
extinct), they can recover but if their habitat is gone they can't ever
recover. Habitat destruction is more difficult to combat than
overharvesting, because humans don't NEED pets but they do need more
space so they intrude on the monkeys' habitats.
Habitat destruction is divided into two types; small-scale and large-scale. Small-scale woodcutting is for example, hand logging; someone finds a nice mahogany tree and goes in and cuts it up. It would also include cutting wood for firewood. Most of the world's population still uses wood for heat and cooking, and as the population grows, there is more need for wood. Also as populations grow, they clear more and more for agriculture. You may have heard of slash and burn agriculture- People will clear out a whole forest, burn it off, plant a crop, get 1-2 years and then the soil will get depleted so they move on and cut some more. Before, this practice was ok because there was so little going on that the forest could grow back up but now it's getting cleared too fast for the forest to catch up.
Large-scale destruction is like commercial logging- clearing out complete forests. A lot of the forests go to make paper. Much of the SE Asian rainforests are used to supply paper for Japan. Also, cattle ranching is big in S America to produce beef for export for places like Macdonalds. Oil refineries in Asia also take up space once covered in rainforests. This kind of behavior is irreversible because rainforests can't just grow back like a field. The soil is really thin and doesn't have much nutrients. Rainforests have a complex ecosystem in which the nutrients are very efficiently recycled. However, when the trees are all cut down, the rain washes the soil with all the nutrients away and it all ends up in rivers where it just becomes pollutants. So, when a large area is cut and then left it just becomes poison to the surrounding area.
So now we know that some destruction is from multinational corporations and some is from local people needing firewood or food. You might think that the damage from commercial use is worse, that it's all the big companies who have no heart who are the bad guys. In actuality, in Africa for example, 1/3 of the forest clearing is from corporations but 2/3 is from the local people, mostly for agriculture. It's really the exponentially expanding human race that is making life so difficult for the rainforests.
Madagascar: Contains 13 genera and 28 species, with all species endangered. In fact, 14 lemurs are already extinct. (They disappeared within the last 1000 years or so, basically since humans first populated the place.) One was huge, like gorilla-sized, it just hung around in trees like a koala. But now it's gone. Madagascar is improportionally important for its acreage because its species don't occur anywhere else in the world.
Africa: Contains15 genera and 55 species, with 14 of these species endangered. The most critical is the gorilla. You might think of them as living in very remote areas far away from people, but it's just a small mountain range which hasn't been cleared because it's too steep. The fields and clearings come right up to base of mountains where the gorillas live.
Asia: S and SE Asia, more specifically. Contains 9 to 16 genera and 50 to 56 species, with 16 species considered endangered. The most critical is rhinopithecus- the golden monkey. Also endangered are the orangutan and all 9 species of the gibbon- in other words, all the Asian apes.
...to Habitat destruction: This problem is a lot more difficult to solve. A crucial part of the solution is education, especially of young people but also of adults. In a lot of cases it doesn't make any economic sense to destroy- these habitats are more valuable in the long term to conserve than to destroy but in short term they give an immediate relief. Pretty much the only hope at this point is reserve systems- we need big chunks of land set aside. But the countries who have the land to preserve are all pretty poor. What you also may not realize is that developing countries set aside more of their land than first world countries. You can't just sit on your high horse and condemn all those darn countries for being greedy and killing the world's rainforests. Indonesia, for example, has between 12 and 25% of its lands protected.
For example, let us look at Ranamafano National
Park in Madagascar. It is 170 square miles and it was established in
1991. In the process, 72,000 people were displaced from in and around the
area!!! Think about this happening in the United States! Do you think
we'd ever be able to set aside all of Washington and Oregon as a national
reserve, and just tell the people there too bad, they'd have to get out
There is a problem with reserves, however; they're not always safe for the animals. When civil war broke out in Rwanda, it wasn't clear whether or not the gorillas would be safe. In many cases parks exist on paper but there's no money for hiring people to protect the areas, so when you go look, people are there clearing land and growing food on it.
More encouraging success stories combine the needs of primates and people, for instance tourism has worked well with gorillas. Up until the war, mountain gorilla tourism was the 2nd largest source of hard currency for Rwanda. Despite close contact between humans and gorillas, and thousands of visitors, there have been no injuries at this site.
The benefits of conservation are international but the costs are borne by the countries where the primates are found. 29 out of the 36 world's poorest countries are in Africa S of Sahara. Nine out of ten Africans live in poverty. The developed countries have to contribute somehow. For example, sometimes the US writes off the debt of a S American country in exchange for them setting up a nature preserve.
Pan Africa News- The
Newsletter of The Japan Committee for the Conservation and Care of
Chimpanzees and The Mahale Wildlife Conservation Society
A page on primate conservation in
Vietnam published by the Institute for Ecology and Biological Resources,
National Centre for Natural Sciences and Technology, National University
American Society of Primatologists