This page includes advice on how to save rainforests. The following tips are quotes from leading conservation scientists and biologists who conducted interviews with mongabay.com.
Expert opinions on how to save rainforests
African conservationist Tim Davenport: What's the best way to protect Tanzania's wildlife? How can conservation efforts be improved?
Conservation is an extremely complicated business. In order to be truly successful, all the pieces of the puzzle must be in place. The real conservation problem must be fully understood, all motives must be known, effective and appropriate incentives need to be devised and monitored, and there needs to be the political will to support any changes. Humans are not by nature a sustainable animal. Learning to become one against a background of rising population is extremely difficult. In many ways the science of conservation is economics, and the art is politics. The biology is often just the more glamorous part that underpins it.
African conservationist Tim Davenport: Dr. Davenport talks about conserving wildlife in Tanzania, Africa's most biodiverse country.
There may not be a single best way to protect Tanzania's wildlife, but the better current approaches are usually broad based. I'll always think, for example, that education is vital.
For conservation practioners the stakes are high. Neither governments, local communities or donors tend to tolerate failure and yet in a business that is so complex, we all need the freedom to try new methods and learn from our mistakes. Sadly, there is rarely that luxury.
Eco-tourism does have an important role, although increasingly these days the phrase has become less meaningful. All too often the word has been hijacked by less scrupulous business people in a bid to attract customers. That said, tourism contributes 17% of Tanzania's GDP, so is clearly of massive importance to the country. It is important to remember however, that tourism is not in itself the panacea. Many of the more remote areas (such as the Southern Highlands) are unlikely ever to raise enough from tourism to sustain conservation, and so they will have to rely on other means or funds from other sources to support conservation efforts.
Tropical Biologist William F. Laurance: Where has conservation failed? Going forward, what's the best approach to protect tropical forests and biodiversity?
What's the solution? A tough question. For starters, we need to attack some of the root sources of the problem, such as rapid population growth, the various manifestations of globalization that are impacting forests, and pressures from international donors to accelerate commodity exports as part of their so-called structural adjustment packages. We also need to promote more international support for conservation, as developing nations are still bearing too much of the opportunity costs for foregoing development and promoting conservation.
Tropical Biologist William F. Laurance: Dr. Laurance, an Amazon rainforest scholar talks about threats to rainforests.
Canopy expert Meg Lowman: What's the best way to save rainforests?
I think we need to dedicate ourselves to ecotourism. Although this results in more people trampling in beautiful places, it is a very forceful mechanism for conservation and also brings revenue to local people without selling their timber. We also need strong leadership to inspire people to immediately adhere to stricter conservation measures -- driving hybrid cars, flying less or more cautiously because of the carbon emissions, working hard to lower the ecological footprint (for Americans, that is), and reviving the science education in our country.
Canopy expert Meg Lowman: Dr. Lowman says that canopy research is key to understanding rainforests.
Tropical Biologist Mark J. Plotkin: What is the best way to save rainforests?
I think the single most effective way to protect the type of rainforest that indigenous people inhabit is to involve them in the conservation process. They have a lot vested in the preservation of the rainforest ecosystem. That's where to get their water, their medicines, make their bows and arrows. Park guards are often not from that area, in fact they are from somewhere far away and sometimes they don't even live in the park.
Tropical Biologist Mark J. Plotkin: Dr. Plotkin, an ethnobotanist discusses indigenous people and the threats they face.
Here's a concrete example. The Tumucumaque reserve on the Suriname border is inhabited by 4000 Indians, it has one gold mine. Tumucumaque national park is about the same size, maybe a little smaller, on the border of French Guiana, is officially inhabited by nobody and has between 10 and 25 gold mines, depending on who you believe. The fact is where you have people with poison-tipped arrows it's a lot less attractive a proposition to destroy that territory and the one next door.
I want to be real clear that I'm not arguing against protected areas - that would be ridiculous. All I'm saying is -number one- we need to pay more attention to, and have more funding for, indigenous areas. And number two, we need to marshal Indians to protect the national parks next door to their territory because it's in their interest to do so. Look to Brazil where 5 percent of the Amazon forest is protected in national parks, while 25 percent is set aside as indigenous lands. If we can help Indians look after their lands as well as watch over after neighboring nature preserves, we'll have tremendous conservation leverage.
We must remember that conservation should not be about what's in it for us. We shouldn't just save the forest because it might offer the cure to AIDS, hemorrhoids, or pancreatic cancer. There are spiritual and ethical aspects to conservation that are often overlooked.
Dr. Ranil Senanayake: How can Sri Lanka's forests be saved?
Like all countries on the planet, the standing forests of Sri Lanka represent only a tiny fraction of what once existed. The area lost is constantly degrading. Restoration of these lands to become friendlier to rainforest biodiversity is the challenge before us. The management of these anthropogenic areas for conserving native biodiversity needs greater and urgent attention. The current approach to conservation with its focus on pristine ecosystems may have obscured the most urgent threat to biodiversity, the degradation of biodiversity on anthropogenic ecosystems.
Dr. Ranil Senanayake: Dr. Ranil Senanayake discusses rainforest conservation in Sri Lanka
The issue of restoration must become a mainstream concern. Economic and policy decisions create a climate conducive to placing a value on restoration, such critical activities are developed and the current trend can be addressed. The greatest resources to respond to these goals of restoration are the rural poor. It is only the day-to-day attention to new plantings in the field and an increasing knowledge on the theory and practice of restoration that will produce the healed environments of tomorrow.
Consideration of the rural populace as key players in land management and rewarding them for the maintenance ecosystems benign to endemic biodiversity is important because it is the rural person who will ultimately be responsible for the acts that destroy or develop biodiversity. In this way local communities can protect biodiversity without compromising their lifestyles.
The Mongabay Kids site (kids.mongabay.com) aims to help children learn about rainforests and the environment. This site is still under development and I am working to add additional content as time permits. If you have comments or are interested in submitting educational content for the site, please feel free to contact me.
The site is available in many different languages, including Portuguese, Chinese, French, Spanish, Japanese, and German.