Tackling illegal tropical timber to conserve wildlife

by ZSL on

From hardwood flooring to paper and packaging, many everyday objects started life as a tree. Sustainable and legal forestry can provide the raw materials needed to meet global demand, while benefiting local communities and avoiding negative impacts on wildlife. But a significant component of the global timber trade has illegal roots, with much of it coming from the biodiversity-rich tropical forests of South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.  

Photograph of forest canopy in Gabon, looking up from the base of a tree

When forests are logged, or native habitat cleared to make way for plantations, ecosystems and biodiversity can suffer. Unsustainable and illegal timber production can endanger threatened species such as the gorilla in the Congo, and the orangutan in Indonesia and Malaysia. The harvesting and processing of timber and pulp has a wide range of potential environmental impacts. Logging roads can disrupt the movement of animals that rely on continuous forest cover, the hauling of felled trees can create skid trails that can lead to soil erosion, and pollutants from pulp and paper mills can leach into waterways. Deforestation is also a significant contributor to global climate change.  

Close-up photograph of a gorilla in Cameroon, sat on a tree stump, holding a leaf and looking towards the camera
As a major importer of timber, the European Union is tackling illegal timber production and trade by helping key countries that produce timber to strengthen the legality and sustainability of their forestry sectors. As part of its SPOTT initiative, ZSL is engaging with timber producers and traders in several of these countries to boost their transparency and sustainability, focusing on those with some of the greatest potential impacts on biodiverse tropical forests and threatened wildlife: Gabon, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, Indonesia, and China - which is sourcing increasing quantities of timber from Africa.

In early 2019, ZSL held workshops in each of the target countries listed above, bringing companies, government representatives, industry associations and NGOs together for constructive discussions around the benefits of transparency, the challenges to becoming more transparent, and the opportunities for action to improve the sustainability and legality of timber production and trade. In all, 144 participants took part in five workshops, identifying a range of benefits to improving transparency and ways to overcome the challenges facing the industry.  

More workshops will be held in 2020 to take stock of progress made by stakeholders, and explore the efforts and support still needed for increased sustainability and legality in the tropical forestry sector. 

You can read more about the workshops, and SPOTT’s work to promote sustainability in timber and pulp supply chains, on the SPOTT website. 

Select a blog

ZSL London Zoo

A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!


We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.


From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.


A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.

Artefact of the month

Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.

Wild About Magazine

Read extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.

Chagos Expedition

The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

Nelson's Island Expedition

ZSL Institute of Zoology researchers are embarking on an exciting fieldwork expedition to Nelson’s Island in the Chagos Archipelago. Throughout the month, the team will share their research and experiences on an uninhabited tropical island!

Asia Conservation Programme

ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation

An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.