According to a report, protected forests in Southeast Asia are being threatened due to increasing worldwide demand for rubber tyres.
As swathes of tropical forests make way for rubber plantations, UK researchers say animal life, which is already, endangered, such as birds, bats and primates are at risk. According to Conservation Letters, it is estimated that by 2024, up to 8.5 million hectares of new rubber plantations will have to be created to meet demand. With the destruction of habitats, breeding grounds and food supplies, the impact on wildlife is potentially catastrophic.
Should we care?
The already endangered white-shouldered ibis, yellow-cheeked crested gibbon and clouded leopard are species, particularly under threat, report the team led by Eleanor Warren-Thomas, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Can we do anything?
Dr Matthew Struebig, from the University of Kent, declared: “There’s a lot we can do …to make rubber production more wildlife-friendly.” She suggested incentives like agro-forestry – mixing rubber with other trees – to retaining patches of natural vegetation along rivers or in small conservation areas, as in organic farming in Europe. She went on to say: “The tyre industry consumes 70% of all natural rubber grown, and rising demand for vehicle and aeroplane tyres is behind the recent expansion of plantations. But the impact of this is a loss of tropical biodiversity.” 8.5 million hectares is roughly the size of Austria. Surely there’s a legitimate biodiversity concern here? Conservationists believe so. They are concerned that switching use of land to rubber cultivation can harm soil, water and biodiversity. As rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop in the Southeast Asia mainland, shouldn’t we take them seriously and halt this intrusion now? The first review of the effects on biodiversity and endangered species of this forest destruction could be compared to the problem that arose with palm oil; it is now linked to the growing tyre market.
The Philippines : The study reported that numbers of bird, bat and beetle species can decline by up to 75% in forests that have been converted to rubber.
Is developing more efficient sustainability initiatives the solution?
The researchers, from UEA and the University of Sheffield, are asking tyre manufacturers to support certification scheme initiatives.
This must surely be key to protecting our forests and wildlife, whilst fulfilling demand, by creating a standard endorsed by the public, and scientists, to manage rubber crops in a more environmentally friendly way?