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More than 15 African nations have tropical rainforests, from Guinea and Sierra Leone in the west, to the island of Madagascar in the east. In many of these countries, such as Madagascar, development has led to deforestation and subsequent erosion and loss of habitat. Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) holds the largest area of rainforest in Africa, nearly one-tenth of the worlds total. In terms of species, Zaire compares with Brazil as home to record levels of diversity: 11,000 plant species are found here, one-third found nowhere else. Again, as in Brazil, this forest is so huge thatas yetrelatively little has been lost in comparison to what remains. But in Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, 70% or more has disappeared, with commercial logging (which began as early as the 1880s in some areas) a major factor. The consequences are social as well as ecological. In Sierra Leone, deforestation is considered a factor in the drought of 1986, which reduced harvests by 50%.
Madagascar, Earths fourth largest island, is one of the richest areas for plants in the world, and home to 30 species of lemur, none found anywhere else. More than 90% of Madagascars reptiles and amphibians are also found nowhere else. Many naturalists consider this island, separated from mainland Africa some 150 million years ago and uniquely rich in biodiversity, one of the most important areas on Earth for conservation.