Endangered Species Handbook

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Vanishing Species

Human Tragedy and the Looting of Virunga's Treasures: Page 14

     There is worldwide interest and concern for the survival and conservation of the Mountain Gorillas and other wildlife of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and an enormous potential market for ecotourism in many parts of these countries that would benefit both the people and the wildlife.  Mountain Gorillas have attracted $10 million in tourism revenues to Rwanda (Tuxill 1997).  The forests of all three countries, as well as those to the west in Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, the Congo (as distinct from the new Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Gabon harbor many zoological curiosities that could attract tourists, such as enormous Goliath Frogs, largest of all frogs, now threatened from over-collecting and habitat loss.  Beautiful Congo Peafowl (Afropavo congenis), the only pheasant species in Africa, are endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, resident in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and several other reserves (BI 2000).  Threatened by hunting, these large, crested birds would be a big attraction for bird-watchers.  Other unusual wildlife, such as tiny forest antelope less than 2 feet tall, inhabit these rainforests, where towering trees draped in mosses and orchids have crested eagles nesting in their crowns.  At the forest floor, blizzards of butterflies drink at streamsides, while colorful lizards flit up tree trunks.  One innovative approach to wilderness protection could acquaint people around the world with such natural treasures without their having to travel.  It could also help local people with funding.  It is the use of videocameras connected to satellites that record wildlife and landscapes for the Internet.  Internet users pay small fees to tune into these videocameras and their websites.  A large portion of the funds could be given to local people.  This popular new technology has helped South African national parks with their expenses.  Small cameras can be placed in extremely remote areas and can be operated on solar power.  They have virtually no impact on the environment, unlike large numbers of ecotourists. 
 
     One method of protecting endangered forests, which play an important role in reducing global warming, is the US Initiative on Joint Implementation, which encourages public utility companies to invest voluntarily in forest conservation.  Through the Carbon Sequestration Program, sizeable expanses of tropical forests, which absorb enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, are being protected.  Wisconsin Electric Power Company, Detroit Edison, PacifiCorp and Cinergy donated $2.6 million in 1995 for a 15,035-acre forest in Belize, adjacent to the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area.  American Electric Power in Indiana is cooperating with PacifiCorp and British Petroleum to protect 5 million acres of Bolivian forests from logging (Passell 1997).  This approach protects large amounts of forest in a cost effective manner:  the estimated cost of sequestering 1 ton of carbon this way is just 37 cents, less than 1 percent of most emissions-reducing technology, according to The New York Times (Passell 1997).  General Motors has helped purchase 30,000 acres of forest in southeastern Brazil, home of the tiny Golden-lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia).  More than 90 percent of this forest, known as the Atlantic Coastal Forest, has been destroyed, and it is one of the world's greatest centers of biodiversity (Mittermier et al. 1999).  This program should be used in conjunction with reduction of emissions from power plants and vehicles--not as a substitute.
 
     In another cooperative venture to save tropical rainforests, US chocolate makers are urging owners of small farms to grow cacao, a crop that is grown in the shade of large trees (Yoon 1998).  A worldwide shortage of chocolate has resulted from the spread of diseases in large-scale cocoa plantations in tropical regions around the world.  Such diseases do not spread or take root when crops are grown in smaller, shaded areas which have a natural diversity of plants and animals, including insect-eating birds and reptiles (Yoon 1998).  With the world's sweetest tooth, the United States consumes 629,000 tons of chocolate per year, far outstripping its nearest competitor, Germany, where 285,000 tons are eaten annually, according to the International Cocoa Organization.  The American Cocoa Research Institute, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and various candy companies, including Mars, Cadbury, Nestle and Hershey, are all cooperating in strategies that promise to conserve tropical trees and wildlife, and grow cacao plants in ecological ways (Yoon 1998).  Huge plantations of cacao in Brazil and elsewhere have lost as much as 80 percent of their crop to fungal and other diseases in recent years, diseases that often spread in large plantings of a single crop. 
 
     Scientists have long noted that birds are abundant in small forested cacao and organic coffee farms, and they are encouraging this new cooperation to protect tropical birds as well as the hundreds of species of North American and European birds that winter in tropical countries.  Shade-grown, organic coffee is also helping to save rainforests.  A trend away from traditional shade-grown coffee into new strains that are grown in the sun, has resulted in the clearing of millions of acres of rainforest to grow this coffee for markets such as the United States.  To counter this trend, some organic companies, organizations and institutions, such as the Smithsonian, are taking a strong stand urging people to buy shade-grown coffee to protect rainforests and migratory birds from North America that winter in Latin American forests.  This coffee is sold in many natural food markets and chains, such as Trader Joe's.  The restaurants and coffeehouses, such as Starbucks, that still use sun-grown coffee should be encouraged to sell shade-grown coffee to help preserve forests and wildlife.
 
     Debt-for-nature swaps can provide relief for countries saddled by debt from loans made by the World Bank and other international funds.  Through these swaps, a portion of a nation's debt is paid by the donor, which may be a conservation organization or other entity, in exchange for the establishment of parks.  These swaps have been undertaken in Madagascar and several other countries.  A growing movement to convince donor countries to forgive these debts is being waged by conservation and human rights organizations.  Should these debts be erased, much environmental degradation would be avoided, since many destructive programs are carried out solely to pay off debt.  One such program, called "Avanca Brasil" or "Advance Brazil," envisions a massive development program in the Amazon Basin, crisscrossing the forest with roads and railroads and damming rivers to produce energy (EII 2001).  A minimum of 28 percent of this great forest would be destroyed and, more likely, at least 42 percent (EII 2001).  Just since 1995, 5 million acres of Amazon forest have been leveled for development (EII 2001).  These forests, a major factor in preventing global warming through absorption of carbon dioxide, produce vast amounts of oxygen and harbor a large percentage of the world's biodiversity. 
 
     If no positive steps are taken, these last sizeable rainforests will be gone, and severe climatic and ecological harm will result.  The great forests of Central Africa are also in the process of being destroyed.  World-class national parks, such as Virunga, may be completely destroyed within a generation by illegal logging, squatters and bushmeat hunting.


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