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All About the Rain Forest
Saving the World's Rain Forests
By Karen Fanning

Clearing and cutting have claimed nearly half of this previously uncut rain forest along the Ambanizana River at the west edge of the Masoala Peninsula in Madagascar.

Photo: David Parks and Larry Barnes (http://ridgwaydb.mobot.org/
mobot/madagascar/)

Start counting. In the time it takes you to reach 10, 25 acres of the world's rain forests will be destroyed. That's the size of 20 football fields, and that has scientists alarmed. What's all the fuss?

"The rain forest is home to millions of plants and animal species that are not found anywhere else in the world, from tiny creatures like beetles and spiders to elephants, tigers, and chimpanzees," says Diane Jukofsky of the Rainforest Alliance in Moravia, Costa Rica.

Although the world's rain forests cover just 7 percent of land on Earth, they're home to more than 50 percent of all known animal and plant species, says Jukofsky. Most are located in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Unlike regular forests, rain forests receive at least 100 inches of rain a year, which supply animals with an abundance of food and shelter.

Rain forests also provide an ideal climate for vegetation to thrive. Some trees reach 200 feet tall. These towering giants form a canopy high above the ground.

"Rain forests are ever green," says Jukofsky. "Things are always blooming and growing in the rain forest. You'll find these very tall trees. It's kind of like walking through a cathedral. All above you is a beautiful mass of green."

Many of the medicines now used to treat illnesses and diseases come from plants that grow in the rain forest. In fact, one in four prescriptions sold at pharmacies comes from flowering plants. Of those, one in three are rain-forest plants.

But today, the world's rain forests are in danger. More than half have been destroyed. As the destruction continues, scientists fear the world's remaining 2.5 billion acres may soon disappear. The culprit? Humans.

Like animals, millions and millions of people around the world rely on the rain forest for food and shelter. In many cases, families clear or burn an area of the forest for farming. They plant crops for a couple of seasons before moving on to a new spot in the forest. Entire forests have been cut down and converted into pastures for cattle ranching. Mineral-rich forests have also been demolished for mining.

So what's being done to stop the world's shrinking forests from vanishing altogether? Conservation groups across the globe are lobbying to preserve the forests. In Brazil, the World Bank and the World Wildlife Fund International are working with government officials to put 10 percent of the Brazilian Amazon Forest under government protection. And organizations like the Rainforest Alliance regularly inspect forests for damage.

Jukofsky says kids can pitch in, too, by buying products marked with rain forest-friendly labels.

"All of us can do something to save rain forests," she says. "Since so many products come from Latin America, Africa, and Asia—from furniture to bananas—we can make sure that what we buy doesn't hurt the forests that grow on these continents."

Fun Activity: Click here for a pop-up map of rain-forest products. Click on a product to find out what rain-forest plant made it possible.