What is a tropical rain forest?

Look on a globe and find the equator. Tropical rain forests form an green band around the equator between the two imaginary lines of the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. While covering less than 6 percent of Earth's surface, rain forests are home to more than 50 percent of the world's plant and animal species. A tropical rain forest gets more than 60 inches (1.5 meters) of rain per year, although some regularly get more than 200 inches (5 meters)! For comparison, San Diego gets around 9 inches (23 centimeters) per year. The average temperature in a tropical rain forest remains between 68 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit (20 and 28 degrees Celsius).

Teeming with treasures

Tropical rain forests are some of the world's most important natural resources, filled with biological treasures. A typical 4-square-mile (10.36-square-kilometer) section can contain over 1,500 flowering plant species, 750 tree species, 125 bird species, 100 reptile species, 60 amphibian species, and 150 butterfly species. Many species have not even been discovered by scientists yet. It will take them years to classify and name all of the recently discovered insects. Plants holding secrets to new medicines are being found in the rain forests. One made from the periwinkle plant is used to treat many forms of childhood leukemia. Who knows what will be found next? Your interest in the rain forest now could lead you to an important scientific discovery in the future!

Food for thought

Every day, people eat foods that started out in the rain forest. Each time you eat bananas, oranges, grapefruit, chocolate, chicken or chicken eggs, papayas, pineapples, rice, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and peanuts, you are eating gifts from the rain forest.

Up in smoke!

Too much of the world's tropical rain forests have already been destroyed because of burning, logging, cattle ranching, dam building, and poor farming practices. Tropical rain forests need our help. There are ways that humans can benefit from the rain forests without destroying them. Many international organizations and companies are finding ways for the people of the rain forest to safely harvest its bounty, instead of destroying it for logging or converting it to infertile farmland. If people work together, we can find many ways to use the rain forest without destroying it.

How can you help?

The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park offer education programs that teach visitors about the wonders of the rain forest. Many of our exhibits feature rain forest animals and plants from around the world. Kids and grown-ups alike can experience the beauty of the Earth's tropical regions. By learning more, you can understand how your actions can help to save the rain forest. Join the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and become a hero or guardian to help.

Remember the three Rs

Reduce— Buy only what you really need or plan to use for a long time, and choose products with less packaging. The less we use, the fewer resources we take from nature.

Reuse— Remember, many products come from rain forests, so be creative and reuse them before they're thrown out. Instead of using disposable items like paper plates, cups, napkins, and plastic forks, use the real deal and wash and reuse them.

Recycle— Aluminum cans, all paper, plastic and glass bottles, even polystyrene foam can be recycled. By recycling one aluminum can, you save enough energy to run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. Many communities now have curbside recycling. If you do not have recycling picked up, you can collect it and take it to your local recycling center. Students in San Diego County can be part of our Cans for Critters program.