Saving the Last Edens

1. African Eden

2. Asian Eden

3. Alaskan Eden

4. Guns vs. Eden


The ancient trees of the African rainforest are home to indigenous peoples, such as the pygmies.
© Bruno Manser






A chimp grasps a tree trunk and glares at the camera.
With luck, this chimpanzee in the Goualogo Triangle may remain blissfully ignorant of hunters.
Courtesy Mitch Eaton/Wildlife Conservation Society




They saw the light
Pygmy child looks miniscule standing beside/half-hidden beside enormous roots of ancient treesPOSTED 20 JULY 2001 In a major conservation victory, a German logging company returned its rights to log a rain forest in Republic of Congo. No ordinary jungle, this was a place where apes did not fear humans -- a place where people may never have been! The 100-square-mile tract is now part of the adjacent Nouabale-Ndoki National Park.

In Congo, a logging company (gasp!) ceded its concession. A national park will expand. Back in the highly developed world, we Why Filers got to wondering about the last wild places. As Earth shrinks in a wave of population growth, development and global commerce, a few unwrecked Edens remain in the far corners of the globe.

Protected by geographic isolation, these treasures are variously dubbed the "last great places" or "biodiversity hotspots." Allow us to wax Biblical and call them "the Last Edens."

We may be talking fruits and snakes, but certainly not gardens. The Edens are places that have largely escaped agriculture and every other human activity that mucks up nature (although they are being damaged by global warming and pollution). The Edens are large chunks of irreplaceable habitat with intact collections of plants and animals.

Map highlights locations in Alaska, Central Africa, and Tibet, in Eastern China.
The Goualogo Triangle in Republic of Congo, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Tibetan Plateau offer priceless opportunities for conservation.

God planted a garden in Eden
The Edens represent the primeval Earth, before a single species of primate grew to tame the planet.

Don't believe us? Consider that Homo sapiens have modified about 50 percent of the land surface, created more than 20 percent of atmospheric carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas), and use more than half of accessible fresh water.

With the human population of 6.137 billion growing by 83 million per year, the Edens may not survive forever. The forces of development and destruction do vary by location, but they reach every corner of the globe.

Are the last Edens truly worth saving, or should we just extract all the timber, oil, minerals and food we can from them? What kind of place needs protection from sawing, paving, plowing and plundering?

Leave and let live
We haven't seen Congo's Goualogo Triangle, and we may never see it, but we hear it's stunning. Imagine a place so untrammeled that archaeological evidence of humans is absent. Conjure up a place that's a black hole in local oral history, where animals don't fear humans.

Imagine such a place surviving in the 21st century.

A forked slough surrounded by jungle, with elephant in the center.Elephants in the Goualogo Triangle.
Courtesy Mitch Eaton/Wildlife Conservation Society

Now open your eyes and envision the 100-square-mile Goualogo Triangle, a rain forest between two swampy rivers in Central Africa.

The Triangle is in the Republic of the Congo. This nation of about 3-million is sometimes called Congo Brazzaville. To the south is war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, once called Zaire.

On July 6, 2001, the German logging firm Congolese Industrielle des Bois said it would return the right to log the Triangle to the Congo. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) acted as a midwife to the delivery, and will continue giving technical advice to the newly enlarged park.

Let the Earth generate plants
Although the loggers coveted the giant mahogany trees in the Triangle (valued at roughly $40-million), they had allowed WCS biologists to explore the area for two years.

Paul Elkan, who led the survey, told reporters that African chimpanzees, which generally run and hide from people (who are often hunters), seemed fascinated by his crew (see "German Loggers..." in the bibliography).

There's more. Helen Crowley, assistant director of Africa programs at the conservation society, told us that human use or occupation generally leaves archeological evidence. Oral histories describe the area, and seeds dropped during meals may leave a legacy of food plants.

In Goualogo, in contrast, she says, "There's no sign, no history, no verbal documentation" of human occupation. "They might have wandered through, but as far as exploitation of the forest, no. The animals are fearless of people, that indicates that the area has not seen people for a long time."

Husbanding the Earth
The Triangle will be added to the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, which already contains nearly 2 percent of Congo's forest.

The park expansion occurs against a background of rapid change in Central Africa. The human population is soaring -- in Congo by more than 2 percent per year. The prices of traditional crops are low, and logging has ramped up, threatening one of Earth's last great rain forests.

Loggers have to eat, and they're eating a lot of wild animals ("bushmeat") in Congo, as we'll see shortly.

In an Asian "Eden" on the Tibetan Plateau, they hunt wild antelopes for wool.




  The Why Files   There are 1 2 3 4 pages in this feature.
Bibliography | Credits | Feedback | Search