Map of the Amazon basin


The Amazon is the world's largest and most famous rainforest. The Amazon River Basin (known as "Amazonia") is roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States (the United States not including Alaska and Hawaii) and includes parts of eight South American countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname. The basin is drained by the Amazon River, the world's largest river.

The Amazon is home to more species of plants and animals than any other ecosystem on the planet. Some of the better known animals found in the Amazon include the jaguar; the tapir; the capybara, a giant aquatic rodents; and many kinds of monkeys and parrots.

The Amazon also supports large populations of tribal people. Today these people, sometimes called Amerindians, have been impacted by the modern world. While they still use on the forest for traditional hunting and gathering, most Amerindians grow crops (like bananas, manioc, and rice), use western goods (like metal pots, pans, and utensils), and make regular trips to towns and cities to bring foods and wares to market.

Nearly 20 percent of the Amazon has been destroyed over the past 40 years. Most forest clearing has been to establish pasture for cattle ranching, but logging, subsistence farming, large-scale (industrial) agriculture, and forest fires also cause deforestation. But since 2004 there has been good news: deforestation has been declining in Brazil, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the remaining Amazon rainforest. Brazil has recently launched a series of measures to protect much of the Amazon for future generations.

Satellite image of the Amazon


By Rhett Butler

Date published: June 24, 2004 | Last updated: December 5, 2015