A big talk by Dr. Joeri Zwerts

Wildlife biologist & Assistant Professor Universiteit Utrecht.

Joeri Zwerts took us on a fascinating journey through the tropical forests of Central Africa. We heard all about Baka and Bantu peoples, bio diversity credits, 400 tree cameras, 1.5 million animal photos, algorithms tailored to the weight of animals, the number of kilos per camera, moped poachers, forest elephants, the collective memory of stinging bees, seed dispersal, Scientific Journal: Nature, Jane Goodall, Tool-using Chimpanzees, Angry Water Buffaloes and Timid Pangolins.

Irresponsible or illegal removal of timber from a tropical forest is a very small part of the problem; the real problem lies with the competition for land use. The increasing demand for agricultural products such as palm oil, beef, soy, and corn also leads to forest degradation and deforestation. In addition, new infrastructure, city extensions and the extraction of natural resources play their part in destroying the forest.

Timber can – if managed correctly – have very little impact on the forest ecosystem. At the same time, it can sustain the local economy.

Prohibition or boycotts of sustainably sourced tropical timber can very well be undermining the positive effects that timber export has to countries in the tropical regions. One of the incentives for the development of sustainable forestry in these areas is the substantial income that results from the international demand for timber. If this incentive is removed, the certification is often abolished, and the area becomes vulnerable to illegal logging, or to other kinds of land use at the expense of forests.

But although FSC has been claiming for 27 years that their guidelines result in more biodiverse forests, Zwerts says there is no conclusive proof of that yet. That is why Zwerts investigated whether FSC certification indeed has a positive effect on wild mammals in forests. To this end, he deployed 400 camera traps in the tropical forests of Gabon and Congo. He did so both in areas managed by companies that are FSC-certified, and in similar areas managed by companies that are not.

His analyses of the camera footage indicate that FSC certification has a very positive impact on larger mammals, such as leopards, gorillas, chimpanzees, forest antelopes and elephants. In non-FSC forest you see not only less larger mammals but also an overrepresentation of small rodent. According to Zwerts, this shows that FSC measures are successful at curbing hunting in certified areas. The results of the study are currently under review by the scientific journal Nature.

The goal of nonprofit organisation FSC is to promote responsible forestry, both regarding the effect on nature and the environment as well as the social