The Classroom Package: Reading Fun
Imagine finding a treasure - a treasure like none that has ever been discovered before. Imagine that this treasure is bursting with an amazing array of wonderful surprises - some that are spectacularly colorful and beautifully designed, some that are rare and highly valuable, some that are very helpful, and some that contain exciting and priceless secrets.
The Amazon rain forest is a world treasure much like the one you've just imagined. It is a treasure because of its beauty and its wonder - the amazing animals, the life-giving rivers, the sea of trees, the flowering plants, the incredible diversity. It is a treasure because it is a storehouse of products that are very useful: wood, animals, food, oil, rubber, wax, glue, and many more. But, perhaps most important, the rain forest is a treasure because we depend on it for our very survival in several ways.
First, one fourth
of our medicines originally came from rain forest plants. Scientists believe
that undiscovered and unstudied rain forest plants may contain biological
secrets that could help eliminate world hunger and cure diseases such as AIDS
and cancer. The trees of the world's rain forests, along with the atmosphere,
also help give our planet a climate in which we humans - and the plants and
animals that we depend on for food, clothing and shelter - can live. Finally,
the rain forest has taught humans one of the most important concepts we need
to understand in order to protect all living things, including ourselves,
from destruction. That concept is 'interdependence.'
Interdependence occurs when two or more plants or animals depend on each other in order to survive. There are an uncountable number of examples of interdependence in the Amazon rain forest. One example would be when a certain kind of bird depends on the seeds of one kind of tree for its food. The tree, at the same time, depends on the bird to digest and release the seeds so they can grow into new trees. The bird and the tree are dependent on each other because if the tree becomes extinct, the bird will have no food; and, if the bird becomes extinct none of the tree's seeds will be able to grow into new trees. The result, in both cases, would be the extinction of both species.
interdependent relationships are not limited to two species: there are chains
of interdependence, which means there can also be chains of extinction. In
the wide picture, all living things, including human beings are connected
by a long chain of interdependence. In other words, plants, humans and animals
depend on each other for their survival.
Sharing the Treasure
The people of the world share in the treasure of the rain forest. Our society, and other societies in the world, including those to whom the rain forests belong, depend on the rain forest in many ways. We use its products every day because they make our lives better or easier or more pleasurable. Those who sell rain forest products benefit from the income they make. Also, thousands and thousands of tourists from around the world visit the rain forest every year. We are naturally attracted to it - because it is a treasure.
But the rain
forest is also a home.
Now, imagine that you and your family live in a large and wonderful home filled with many beautiful possessions, some of them very useful and some of them very rare and valuable. Imagine that you have lived there for many years: you are very familiar with your home and comfortable in it. But, suddenly, one year, termites invade. At first, you hardly notice them and you go on living as usual. But, as the termite colony gets larger and larger, it becomes clearer and clearer that it is causing serious damage and that your home and many of its beautiful possessions will be destroyed in the not-so-distant future.
The Amazon rain forest is a home to many people, like Ivan, Sandra, Bety and the rest of the villagers of Limoncocha. They consider it a home and a treasure both at the same time. Of course, it is also a home to millions of plant and animal species.
But, the Amazon rain forest is like a home that is being destroyed by termites because people from outside the forest are going in, cutting its trees, extracting its valuable resources and endangering or causing the extinction of hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of plants and animals. People from outside the rain forest do this because their societies naturally want what they can get of the rain forest treasure.
But, the rate of destruction is dangerously high. Hundreds of species become extinct every year. Many of these are plants and insects that we know little about. But even some animals we know well, like macaws, monkeys, three-toed sloths, jaguars, tapirs and ocelots (just to name a few) are endangered.
Native American groups no longer exist due to contact with people from outside
the rain forest. Some of these were small groups of people with distinct cultures
living in small regions of the rain forest. Their lifestyle was one of interdependence
with the rain forest. So when people from outside the forest came and disturbed
the delicate balance, whole parts of the rain forest and whole cultures were
Adapting to Change
Native American rain forest people who remain are also at risk of losing their lifestyle and their home. But, many of them are not entirely opposed to change. They realize that there is no stopping the world's powerful attraction to their home and they know that they must adapt or lose everything.
They also are aware that the outside world has treasures, too - treasures that their communities can benefit from, such as modern technology, higher education and advances in health. In Limoncocha, for example, the people would not want to give up the new things they have in their community since they started having contact with people from outside the rain forest: things like their schools, their health center, well-paying jobs, new foods, modern-style clothing, opportunities for college education and things like electricity, TV's and cars. After all, it is also normal for them to want some of the treasures they can get from the rest of the world.
The rain forest
people who remain in the rain forest and keep part of their culture are those
who were most adaptable. But, unfortunately, plants and animals cannot adapt
as quickly as humans. As destruction of the rain forest continues, they are
dying off at a rate never known on the earth since the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Ironically, the great diversity of the rain forest speeds up the process of
There is an important difference between the Amazon rain forest and North American forests that helps explain why extinction is occurring at such a quick rate in the Amazon. North American forests tend to have a small number of species but a large number of individuals from each species in a given area. For example, in a pine forest, there may be only one kind of pine tree but many, many trees of that kind. The opposite is true in the Amazon rain forest where there are many species but few individuals in a given area. In other words, in one small area of rain forest, there may be hundreds of species of trees and plants, but only a few members of each species. The Amazon rain forest, then, has great diversity, but relatively small populations of species in large areas.
Also, just as some of the
now extinct Native American rain forest groups lived in only one small area
of the forest, some rain forest species have very small and specific ranges.
In other words, their small population may also be limited to a small area.
It is because of these two factors, combined with interdependence, that so
many rain forest plants and animals are becoming extinct or endangered as
areas of the rain forest are being clear-cut and exploited.
Loss of a Treasure and a Home
Just like it is normal for termites to go where there is wood, it's normal for people outside the rain forest to want to have some of the rain forest treasure. It's also normal for people who live in the rain forest to want to protect their home from being destroyed. The problem is that many of those who have been after treasure in the rain forest have not been taking into consideration that the rain forest is also a home. They also don't seem to know about interdependence.
If the destruction
of the rain forest continues at the current rate it will mean mass extinction
of plants and animals, complete loss of certain cultures and no more rain
forest as we now know it: in other words - no more treasure. Due to interdependence,
this could be a catastrophe to humans throughout the world. But even from
the perspective of one child now living in the Amazon rain forest, it would
be a terrible loss - for it would mean the loss of a home.
Guardians of the Treasure and the Home
We, as a society, are partially to blame for the destruction of the rain forest because we demand its products. Although we shouldn't blame ourselves as individuals, since the problem is far beyond an individual's control, we must accept some of the responsibility. What's more, we can be a part of the solution by taking action to combat the destruction of the rain forest.
Imagine that you have been entrusted with the care of a great treasure: a beautiful home that is beginning to be damaged. Imagine that the job is especially challenging because many people want to continue sharing the treasure while others want to stop the damage and repair the home. It is a great responsibility, for the future of the treasure and the home depend on you.
Again, the rain
forest is like what you have imagined, only the guardians are all of us. Together,
because it is our responsibility as people who share in the treasure, we need
to take steps towards protecting the Amazon rain forest. The steps
we take will determine its future - and the future of humankind. We must remember
that we have an interdependent relationship with the rain forest. We depend
on it. But more and more it depends on us to make sure it remains a treasure
and a home well into the future.
Amazon Rain Forest
The Galapagos Islands