Human Needs

Rainforest berries: Coffee

The first coffee was drunk over a thousand years ago by Arab traders. According to legend, it was discovered by an Ethiopian shepherd who saw his goats were unusually frisky after eating the caffeine-rich coffee berries.

Family tales: Goeldi’s monkeys

Goeldi’s monkeys live in family groups of six to eight in South American rainforests. The parents and siblings keep close, rarely moving more than 15m apart (45’). Goeldi’s use a range of scents and almost 50 high-pitched calls to stay in touch and alert one another to food and predators.

Sweet cure: Chocolate

While still best loved as a sweet confectionary, humans first used chocolate thousands of years ago as a medicine. Anxiety, fever, and fatigue were all treated by chocolate-sweetened remedies made by the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec civilisations.

Anti-cancer: Rosy periwinkle

This pretty plant from Madagascar gives us two very important cancer-fighting medicines: vinblastine and vincristine. Vinblastine has helped increase the chance of surviving childhood leukaemia from 10% to 95%, while vincristine is used to treat Hodgkins’ Disease.

Safe sex: Wild yam

The wild yam has greatly influenced the social and medical traditions of millions of people around the world. Diosgenin is extracted from the rhizome (underground stem) and roots of the yam and it forms the basis of the modern birth control pill.

The Pet Trade

As with the trade in hardwoods, the capture and sale of animals from tropical forests has become a lucrative business for some people, and is thought to be the second biggest cause of species loss after habitat destruction.


The trade in tropical hardwoods is one of the main reasons for the destruction of the rainforests. Unfortunately, because the most valuable species do not grow close together, large tracts of forest are destroyed to obtain the wood from a few trees.

Cash Crops

Throughout the world’s rainforests the greatest losses in cover have been due to the clearing of land for agriculture, in particular for ‘cash crops’ grown in large plantations. These plantations are often controlled by foreign multinational companies with few of the profits going to the growers.

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