Forests - Congo
The Congo of Central Africa contains the world’s second largest forest and supports a unique biodiversity. This sprawling ecosystem is part or all of seven countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, and the tiny Cabinda enclave of Angola. The forest zone covers over 1,725,000 km2, and makes up 26% of the world’s forests. It is surpassed in size only by the Amazon. Of the core Congo Forest zone, it is estimated that at least 70% is still intact. Two key features distinguish this African wilderness from the other great rainforest wilderness, the Amazon. First, climatic changes through geological time seem to have been more extreme, and second, hominids emerged in equatorial Africa and have lived in at least some forested areas for several hundred thousand years. In Africa, the long coexistence of wildlife and humans has preserved the forests of Central Africa more or less intact to the present day but now the forests are under threat from logging and mining. According to the Rainforest Foundation they are shrinking at the rate of 10,000 km2 every year.
The forests of Congo are home to a diverse range of animals. Three of the world's four species of Great Apes are found there (gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos), along with half the elephants of Africa, rare animals such as the bongo and the okapi, and a wealth of different types of trees, plants and fruits. They provide humans with food, shelter, wood, and medicines, as well as helping to prevent global warming. Many people depend on the country's forests for their livelihood, and they are Congo's greatest natural resource. The challenge is to benefit from this wealth without destroying it.
The forests of central Africa house an extraordinary range of large and small mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, trees and plants (please see the figures provided by UNESCO below). These organisms are linked by a complex web of interdependencies: a chimpanzee relies on fruit to provide the energy and protein it needs to survive, while the tree needs the chimpanzee to disperse seeds in its dung; elephants open up streams and rivers in forest clearings, allowing the plants and sedges, which gorillas love, to flourish in their wake; leopards prowl in the thick vegetation waiting to pounce on anything that strays too close. This complex ecosystem has evolved over thousands of years to reach a perfect balance: wherever there is a plant or shrub, an animal has adapted to eat it; wherever there are herbivores, there are carnivores which prey on them. And this system continues to evolve every day, as predators develop new methods of catching prey, while prey species find better ways of concealing themselves, and animals such as chimpanzees develop new tools to find food.
This balance is coming under increasing pressure from the activities of man. The development of large urban centres and activities such as logging and commercial agriculture has led to the destruction of large areas of forest, while larger human populations mean more hunting in the remaining areas of forest. Against this background, the ecosystem of the Central African forests is more important than ever, because it is one of the few forests in the world which still has large tracts of land which are intact and undisturbed.
What you can do
Support groups which are trying to save these forests. Do not buy timbers or timber products unless they come from a source which is identified as being environmentally managed.
Send our letter to the Congo government. The letter is explained below in English. On the letter page of our web site however, it has been translated into French for the benefit of Congo readers.