YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Researchers meeting in Cameroon say Africa may lose up to 30 percent of its animal and plant species by the end of the century due to global warming, population growth and unregulated development.
The researchers from 20 African, American and European universities say sub-Saharan Africa is losing forest land faster than any place on Earth.
Loggers are cutting down trees to meet unrelenting timber demand from China, Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, countries are recording 3 percent population growth per year, and land that was once covered by forests is being used for homes, industries and plantations for cash crops.
That means a loss of habitat for many types of African animals and plants, that are already under pressure from the rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and ensuing global warming.
Thomas Smith, from the Center for Tropical Research at the University of California, said, "With a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature, Africa may lose 30 percent of its animals and plants. And unfortunately with the increase in CO2 that has been now estimated to be up to three degrees in terms of rising global temperatures -- that means we may lose 40 percent of all mammal species in Africa by the end of the century."
An example of the animals disappearing is the African chimpanzee. Mary Katherine Gonder of the Department of Biology at Drexel University, said the chimps' forest home is disappearing, and the animals themselves continue to be hunted and sold as food in and around the Congo Basin forests.
"What will happen over the next 20 years, the distribution of those chimpanzees will change," said Gonder. "Their habitat will change fundamentally and they will no longer be around. So it is a real threat. The habitat for those chimpanzees will be gone."
Smith said it is possible to develop Africa and conserve the environment.
"With these enormous challenges, we need to develop green economies. We need to make sure that the development we do is sustainable," said Smith. "For example, we are working with parties here to develop new ways of providing green jobs, for example areas that you can preserve, [like] forests, and at the same time produce crops that are appropriate for people to sell and to eat. So we need to be thinking about how to preserve the natural processes and at the same time provide for the economic needs of the country."
The Congo Basin region of Central Africa, which is said to be one of the regions hardest hit by climate change, contains the second largest tropical rain forest in the world and is an important source of livelihood for millions of people.