It's NOT a jungle out there - (any more)

By Colin Ricketts - 22 May 2013 9:16:16 GMT
It's NOT a jungle out there - (any more)

This teak elephant represents the natural forest, which is grown in vast plantations nowadays and the natural fauna, which are becoming more and more threatened with total extinction, even before some of them are discovered; Teak elephant image; Credit: © Shutterstock

The tropical forests of South East Asia were unique. They supported apes, elephants and tigers, alongside myriad insect hordes and fascinating flora, including huge trees and wonderful fruits that maintained multiple bird, mammal and human diets. They are still there, but from the air you can see nothing of their former glory.

At ground level, the defoliation efforts of the Vietnam war failed, but human expansion has cleared vast areas for , most often, coffee but also teak plantations and , of course, the ubiquitous oil palm. There are large "blocks" of forest left, but, "eco-corridors," must be left to help tiger and elephant and all the little-known mammals and birds to breed. Genetic isolation is a huge problem now to so many species, including of course the forest vegetation and the invertebrates.

The rate of loss is probably the most worrying sight. In the last 15 years, 1700 species were discovered. Whether that had anything to do with the recent ease of penetration is debatable. Certainly, many of these uncommon animals and plants are rapidly becoming extinct in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Sometimes it's furniture exports, then it's giant dams and invasive agricultural practices. Limestone is a feature of many Asian beauty spots in for example, Vietnam and Thailand, but no more will these hills be viewed, inside the maw of a concrete mixer. Both Thailand and Vietnam have lost 43% of their much-loved forests, since the end of the Vietnam War.

While most of the countries were covered in forest at that time, only 20% remain. Dao tribes-people in Vietnam are joined by many other native peoples in being persuaded from their ancestral areas. WWF says 2030 is the crucial time at which very little forest area will be left for viable normal habitats, for native people or wildlife. With half of the "jungles" of Vietnam remaining right now, the next phase will see only 14% left. Tourism and biodiversity are linked so financial considerations apart from development need to be considered.

Dr.Vo Quy of Hanoi University knows well that more new species are being discovered every week. (In fact there are two every week!) Few can see the use of biodiversity, but the fact is that 7% growth in many countries will see economic factors destroying any arguments for conservation. A short term profit has always been the priority in recent times.

From 60 million in 1980, the Vietnamese population has gone up to 90 million, with the average family having 6.7 children in some areas Nearly three quarters of the US furniture market and many Chinese furniture makers use Asian wood, much of it brought to Thailand or Vietnam from neighbouring countries. We know the illegal situation well as far as animal exploitation goes, but the wood is transferred willy-nilly!

The Environmental investigation agency (EIA) found, in 2008, that "criminal networks have now shifted their attention to looting the vanishing forests of Laos." While Vietnamese companies take the profits, Lao authorities turn a blind eye because of their share of the total. As happens in most countries nearby, rangers entrusted with forest and wildlife interest have little status and are attacked by poachers frequently and quite often killed. Protection is only a name as far as the fauna and flora are concerned.

The only answer to these problems across the region is community support and popular interest, but this has, painfully and obviously, not happened. We are nearing the emergency moment as forest experts have predicted. By 2030, it seems likely those "jungles" will be no more.

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Topics: Elephants / Rainforest