The Amazon is a vast region that spans across eight rapidly developing countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, an overseas territory of France.
The landscape contains:
- One in ten known species on Earth
- 1.4 billion acres of dense forests, half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests
- 4,100 miles of winding rivers
- 2.6 million square miles in the Amazon basin, about 40% of South America
There is a clear link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the planet. The rain forests, which contain 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon, help stabilize local and global climate. Deforestation may release significant amounts of this carbon, which could have catastrophic consequences around the world.
The Amazon contains millions of species, most of them still undescribed, and some of the world’s most unusual wildlife. It is one of Earth’s last refuges for jaguars, harpy eagles and pink dolphins, and home to thousands of birds and butterflies. Tree-dwelling species include southern two-toed sloths, pygmy marmosets, saddleback and emperor tamarins, and Goeldi’s monkeys. The diversity of the region is staggering:
- 40,000 plant species
- 3,000 freshwater fish species
- more than 370 types of reptiles
To protect these species, WWF works with local communities, partner non-governmental organizations, corporations and governments to ensure that deforestation and degradation of rivers are alleviated.
People & Communities
More than 30 million people, including 350 Indigenous and ethnic groups, live in the Amazon and depend on nature for agriculture, clothing and traditional medicines. Most live in large urban centers, but all residents rely on the Amazon’s natural bounty for food, shelter, and livelihoods.
Despite its mighty splendor, the Amazon’s forest and freshwater systems are fragile and at risk.
Extensive Cattle Ranching and Agricultural Expansion
Amazon forests suffer as global demand for products such as beef and soy increases. Forests are cleared for more and more cattle grazing pasture and cropland. These growing industries also displace small farmers, forcing them into forested areas which they must clear to sustain themselves.
Cattle pastures occupy 80 percent of deforested areas in the Amazon. Pasture runoff contaminates rivers. Fire used to manage fields often spreads into the remaining forests. The deforestation caused by ranching also contributes to climate change, releasing 340 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.
Poorly Planned Infrastructure
Transportation and energy infrastructure are essential for national and regional development, but when they are poorly planned, negative impacts can exceed short-term benefits. For example, building new roads exposes previously inaccessible areas of forest to illegal and unsustainable logging.
Hydropower is now used to meet Brazil’s growing demand for energy, but many dams are being constructed in areas of high conservation value. The dams:
- disrupt river connectivity
- block the range of many aquatic species
- interfere with some subsistence and commercial fisheries
WWF conducts biological surveys and works with governments to help inform the dam site selection process. We advocate for a basin-wide approach to hydropower planning that identifies the rivers with the highest conservation value so that development can be steered away from them.
Illegal and Unsustainable Natural Resource Extraction
There is high demand for the natural resources found in the Amazon, but weak law enforcement to safeguard them. In addition, inefficient extraction processes lead to the destruction of nature and wildlife. For example, some mining activities contribute to soil erosion and water contamination.
WWF works to promote best practices and decrease environmental damage from:
- gold mining
- oil exploration
- illegal logging
- overharvesting of fish and other aquatic species
In recent times, warmer temperatures and less rainfall have produced droughts of historic proportions. The Amazon suffered its worst droughts of the last 100 years in 2005 and 2010. Long dry spells wither crops, decimate fisheries and lead to forest fires. This can result in significant shifts in the makeup of ecosystems and a loss of species. WWF helps farmers protect their crops from severe rainfall and droughts and ensure nearby wildlife areas can adapt to a warmer world. Learn more about the impacts of climate change in the Amazon.