World’s tropical wildlife refuges under threat

The world’s remaining tropical forests, acting as "arks or sanctuaries" for many rare species, are becoming increasingly squeezed, according to a new global study

Rapid deforestation in tropical areas in Asia, Africa and the Americas is opening up more of the world’s last protected areas to encroachment by loggers, land-grabbers, poachers and other external threats.

Around 85% of protected tropical forests evaluated by researchers had lost nearby forest cover over the past 20-30 years.

The major scientific study, which involved more than 200 scientists from around the world, is a stark warning to policymakers ahead of the UN’s latest biodiversity Summit in October in India.

Lead-author professor William Laurance, from James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, said protected areas were “like arks for biodiversity.”

“But some of the arks are in danger of sinking, even though they are our best hope to sustain tropical forests and their amazing biodiversity in perpetuity.”

Tropical forests are the most ecologically diverse regions on Earth – home to a wide variety of species from butterflies to orangutans that are found nowhere else on the planet.

Laurance told chinadialogue protected areas were “badly needed’ but that surrounding areas needed to be careful managed to act as buffer zones to safeguard against external threats.

“We have no choice, tropical forests are the biologically richest real estate on the planet, and a lot of that biodiversity will vanish without good protected areas,” concludes Laurance.

Tom Levitt, chinadialogue