Rainforests are biologically rich, containing more than half of the world's animals and birds, plus a plethora of plants and insects and one-fifth of the Earth's drinking water. But rainforest plants and animals have disappeared at disturbing rates due to logging and ranching by desperate, poverty-stricken local people and large corporations. In fact, where there once were 6 million square miles covered by rainforests, there are now just 2.6 million, and where there were once 6 million indigenous peoples, there are now fewer than 200,000. Additionally, scientists now believe that around 50,000 species of animals, plants and insects are lost each year.
Mantled Howler Monkeys
Destroyed by habitat destruction and fragmentation, disease, genetic in-breeding and natural disasters, there are currently fewer than 12,000 mantled howler monkeys in Central and South America. Plus, the monkey is extremely endangered in Mexico and may disappear before the turn of the century. This is tragic not only because they are an unusual creature able to howl loud enough that people hear them from two miles away, but also because they are a keystone figure in forest regeneration, dispersing seeds in their dung. Measures are being taken to control the loss, including protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Additionally, countries are working together to create new reserves to preserve habitat.
Toucans could be one of the most familiar rainforest creatures, with their large, wildly colored bills. Unfortunately, this is the one of the main reasons they have become increasingly endangered. They are often captured, taken out of their natural habitat and turned into pets. Additionally, with the significant loss of their habitat, they have fewer places in which to reproduce their few young. A few of the more than 40 different species are more endangered than others, including the yellow-browned toucanet, which lives in Peru and is threatened by significant habitat loss.
The Western hemisphere's largest cat, the jaguar, lives in the Central and South American rainforests. Despite being one of the forest's most elusive creatures, they have been hunted so that they are now considered an endangered animal. Their fur is coveted worldwide, but they have also suffered losses because ranchers kill them for eating livestock and because of significant human-caused habitat destruction. In the United States, the federal Endangered Species Act prohibits trade in jaguar fur, and the animal is mostly protected throughout its range. Still, poaching is common. Thus, these tan, spotted creatures that can grow from 5 to 8.5 feet long, are becoming increasingly rare.