Editor's note: Jeff Corwin, a wildlife biologist, toured Brazil with Anderson Cooper as part of 360's "Planet in Peril" series. He earlier blogged about having stripes painted on his arms by some Amazon residents.
Alas, after two weeks, the black rings of herbaceous dye are beginning to fade from my arms, although the stigma of resembling a rabid zebra still seems to linger. I leave Brazil both encouraged and concerned about the future of the biologically rich habitat contained within her borders.
Hope comes from the selfless investment of time, energy and resources put forth by a talented community of Brazil-based scientists and conservationists from a variety of institutions, whether educational, private organizations, and government, all of which are committed to securing rainforests and their wildlife for future generations. Brazil's role in conservation is critical, since around 70 percent of the Amazon (roughly 40 percent of all tropical rainforests on earth) is in Brazil, according to a study in Futures, a policy journal.
Yet, I can't help but feel despair for the situation as a whole. The fact remains that 20 percent of Brazil's rainforest has been cut down over the past 40 years, according to National Geographic, and on average more than 9,000 square miles of this incredibly important habit is felled annually, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The major drivers of rainforest destruction are homesteading, cattle ranching, mining and logging, with many of the resulting products exported abroad.
Why does all this matter? Because tropical rainforests are navels of life for our planet.
This habitat takes up around 5 percent of our planet's surface, but it contains between 20 and 50 percent of the world's total number of species, scientists say. This life, whether in toxins used by plants to repel herbivorous consumers, oxygen generated via photosynthesis, hydrological and temperature regulation through the metabolic activity of plants and trees, benefits us greatly. The Amazon alone is estimated to contribute roughly 20 percent of the earth's oxygen.
Rainforests are also natural regulators of global temperature, atmosphere and oxygen production. This habitat can be looked upon almost as a barometer measuring the overall biological health of our planet.
One reason we came to Brazil is to put a face on all the facts and figures I've cited. It's those faces I'll remember most: A rehabilitated sloth finally tasting freedom, a rare pied bare-faced tamarin orphaned by poachers, all the scientists and forest rangers risking life and limb to protect Brazil's remaining rainforest, and the image of an indigenous community whose cultural survival is forever liked to the rainforest they inhabit.