Map of the Amazon rainforest The River Amazon originates in the Andes Mountains, and winds its way eastwards through Peru and Brazil before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. This vast river carries a fifth of all the world’s fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon Basin contains the largest area of rainforest in the world. Many kinds of plants and animals live there, and new species are constantly being discovered. The Amazon and its tributaries provide a vital transport route and source of food for the indigenous (native) peoples who live in forest villages. A few of these peoples still follow a traditional way of life, hunting, fishing and growing crops. Many also take advantage of modern technology, such as engines for their boats.
Today, the rainforest is under threat, because of logging for the timber industry, roadbuilding, and clearing space for cattle farming or crop cultivation. The poor-quality rainforest soil means that it cannot support grazing or crops for long before the farmers must move on to new areas—so even more of the forest is lost. Since 1970, more than 755,000 square kilometres (290,000 square miles) of forest have been lost—an area the size of Chile. The rate of loss of rainforest areas has actually slowed significantly since 2004, thanks to conservation efforts.
The destruction of the rainforest does not only mean a loss of habitat for millions of plants and animals. The bare landscape that is left also leads to soil erosion, which results in even less land for farming. The loss of so many trees also contributes to global warming, as trees absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
Slash and burn cultivation in the Peruvian Amazon: this rainforest clearing has been planted with maize seedlings.
The Amazon rainforest is home to about 2.5 million insect species, 40,000 plant species, 2200 fish, 2000 bird, 400 mammal, 400 amphibian and 380 reptile species.
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