Study documents staggering loss of wildlife following Amazon 'Rubber Boom'

Researchers for the first time have documented the killing of millions of animals in Brazil's Amazon Basin for their hides following the collapse of the Rubber Boom in the 20th century, causing the collapse of some aquatic species.

Yet despite the harvest of many terrestrial animals, most land-based species appear to have survived the carnage.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Science Advances.

"There was a massive international trade in furs and skins taken from the Amazon in Brazil during much of the 20th century, yet surprisingly no previous studies documented the exploitation of the animals or the resilience of the ecosystem," said Taal Levi, a wildlife ecologist at Oregon State University and co-author on the study.

Beginning in the late 19th century, roughly half a million colonists entered the Amazon region to extract rubber across all the major river basins. An immense fleet of steamships was built for transport and trade and a network of river merchants purchased forest products from extraction industries. When rubber prices collapsed in 1912 because of competition from Malaysian plantations, the enterprises that did not go bankrupt sought other products.

Thus began the international trade in Amazonian animal hides, which persisted for decades until protective laws were established. Read more...