The vast majority of Africa's tropical moist and tropical rainforests exist in West and Central Africa. However,
these forests are rapidly vanishing; according to the FAO, Africa lost the highest percentage of rainforests during the
1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s of any biogeographical realm.
Around the turn of the century, West Africa had some 193,000 sq. miles (500,000 sq. km) of coastal rainforest but today the tropical forests of West Africa—mostly lowland formations easily accessible from the coast—have been largely depleted by commercial exploitation, namely logging, and conversion for agriculture. Now, according to the figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, only 22.8 percent of West Africa's moist forests remain, much of this degraded. In more populous states, notably Nigeria, human population pressures have put a tremendous strain on forests, while other countries like Côte d'Ivoire have suffered extensive forest loss as a result of commercial logging and agriculture. The effects from forest loss are yet to be fully understood, though erosion has greatly increased as has the incidence of drought in the interior countries of Mali and Niger. These coastal forests appear to play a substantial role in maintaining rainfall in these interior countries.
The rainforests of Central Africa still cover a substantial area, although this expanse is declining. More than 70 percent of Africa's remaining rainforests are located in Central Africa, covering about 720,000 square miles (1.875 million square km). The bulk of this region's forests are found in the Congo Basin in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Congo, and Gabon. Over the past decade, these forests have been threatened by masses of refugees fleeing rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the movement of local militias. Now that some form of peace has returned in most areas, logging and other development activities are expected to increase.
Sub-Saharan Africa has long been considered one of the poorest regions on earth despite its rich biological diversity and
mineral wealth. The poor turn to the forests for subsistence agriculture, the collection of fuelwood, and the poaching
of forest animals for food. The rapid population growth of the region—among the highest in the world—combined with high
rates of urbanization have promoted these unsustainable activities by creating demand for bushmeat, fuelwood, and other
forest products. Fuelwood makes up more than 8o percent of the total roundwood produced in the region.
On a commercial level, logging has greatly accelerated in Central Africa, much of it carried out by West African
firms (Côte d'Ivoire especially) in the early 1990s which had largely cut through their own forests. However the situation changed
rapidly in the mid-1990s after the January 1994 devaluation of the African (CFA) franc by 50 percent under the Structural
Adjustment Program. Before devaluation, the difficulties of access, transport, and dealing with unstable governments,
as well as the overvalued currency had made Central Africa a relatively expensive place to operate and slowed investment
in timber industries. After devaluation, production costs fell and logging in the Central African rainforests became
more competitive. Additionally, in order to improve their own economic situation (devaluation is especially hard
on the poor since goods become relatively more expensive in their currency), many poor farmers cleared new fields from
forests to plant higher-yielding crops that require the nutrients released by freshly slashed-and-burned forest.
In the past few
years, logging has skyrocketed as European and Asian timber firms (facing restrictions in their homelands from
years of overharvesting) have moved into the region. Between 1990 and 1997, the volume of timber exported annually
from countries of the Congo basin increased ten-fold to two million cubic meters. Though Asians only entered
the African timber market in 1995, already the greatest demand for African wood comes from the Far East. For example,
85 percent of timber production in Gabon now goes to Asia. During 1996 alone, Asian timber firms gained control of 10-12.5
million acres (4-5 million ha) of rainforest in Central Africa. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 had a major
impact on timber production and log prices in Central Africa. Today, European and Asian firms are particularly active in Central Africa.
Logging roads are opening vast areas of forest to colonists and poachers. Numerous infrastructure projects have been initiated by foreign companies. One major French aid agency that works in the region boldly states that its development projects only finance infrastructure necessary to French timber interests. The new government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) is working on several large infrastructure contracts with South Africa to open up the forests for mineral and timber development. China has invested in infrastructure projects in several African nations.
The inflow of foreign firms does not necessarily bring benefits to most poor farmers and colonists. Though in many areas these
industries provide the only form of work for these people, pay is menial and jobs are temporary. After the firm has exhausted the forest of its resources, it moves on, leaving a community that had become dependent on the firm for employment. Settlers then may burn surrounding forest lands, now degraded, for short-term, subsistence agriculture. In addition, most timber leaves the country as raw logs since export laws, like environmental regulations, are poorly enforced. Thus, the country does not maximize its potential benefits that could be derived from timber processing and the
export of value-added goods like furniture. Finally, it is only a privileged few who generally share in the spoils of logging, oil, and mining. Virtually no benefits are returned to the people who are most impacted by development projects. Corruption is a major problem in many of these countries: Nigeria and Cameroon were recently rated among the most corrupt in the world. Post-colonial kleptocratic governments "produced
by strong-man rule have proved uniformly inept, with a partial exception for pillage . . . [Most] foreign aid ends
up in numbered accounts abroad" (Landes, 1998).
The outlook for Central and West Africa's rainforests is not promising. Many countries have agreed in principle to conventions on biodiversity and
forest preservation, but in practice these concepts of sustainable forestry are not enforced. Most governments
lack the funds and technical know-how to make these projects a reality, and "paper parks" are common.
Funding for most conservation projects comes from foreign sectors and 70-75 percent of forestry in the region is funded
by external resources. Additionally, high population growth rates combined with rural poverty make it difficult for the government to control local subsistence clearing and hunting. Equally
challenging are the tremendous debt obligations facing the governments of these countries. Already terribly poor
(16 of the world's 20 poorest countries are in Africa), by 2002 African countries with tropical rainforest had
accumulated a foreign debt of more than US$200 billion, an almost insurmountable sum considering the low annual GDPs of
most member countries. The easiest, most expedient way for such governments to service these debt payments is to
sell their forest products and resources.
Nevertheless, there is hope for Africa's remaining rainforests. The Asian economic slow-down has provided precious
time for African nations to reexamine their forestry policies. Various government agencies, NGOs, conservation organizations, and private industries have developed innovative schemes to incorporate locals into the sustainable management of rainforests. These community management programs show potential, but thus
far represent only a minuscule fraction of forest land. Recently several organizations including the U.N. have put
pressure on African governments to abandon tax incentives for practices that encourage deforestation, but provide
virtually no return to most African people. In addition, the region, with its biodiversity and varied landscapes,
has excellent potential for eco-tourism, though it is stymied by poor infrastructure and concerns over political
stability, health, and safety. Finally, the region's biological wealth offers tremendous potential for bioprospecting
for potentially useful drugs, food products, and other non-wood forest products.
Big data shows tropical mammals on the decline
(12/12/2013) The world's largest remote camera trap initiative—monitoring 275 species in 17 protected areas—is getting some big data assistance from Hewlett-Packard (HP). To date, the monitoring program known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network has taken over 1.5 million photos of animals in 14 tropical countries, but conservationists have struggled with how to quickly evaluate the flood of data.
Bonobos: the Congo Basin's greatest gardeners
(12/11/2013) The survival of primary forests depends on many overlapping interactions. Among these interactions include tropical gardeners, like the bonobo (Pan pansicus) in the Congo Basin, according to a new study in the Journal of Tropical Ecology. Bonobos are known as a keystone species, vital to the diversification and existence of their forests.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013
(12/10/2013) 1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Like ancient humans, some lemurs slumber in caves
(12/05/2013) After playing, feeding, and socializing in trees all day, some ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) take their nightly respite in caves, according to a new study in Madagascar Conservation and Development. The findings are important because this is the first time scientists have ever recorded primates regularly using caves (see video below).
Microsoft founder funds Africa-wide elephant survey to measure ivory poachers' toll
(12/04/2013) Beginning next year, light planes and helicopters will undertake the first ever continent-wide aerial survey of Africa's vanishing elephant populations. The hugely ambitious initiative, which will count elephant herds in 13 countries, is being funded by Microsoft founder, Paul Allen, through his Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
Sky islands: exploring East Africa's last frontier
(12/04/2013) The montane rainforests of East Africa are little-known to the global public. The Amazon and Congo loom much larger in our minds, while the savannas of East Africa remain the iconic ecosystems for the region. However these ancient, biodiverse forests—sitting on the tops of mountains rising from the African savanna—are home to some remarkable species, many found only in a single forest. A team of international scientists—Michele Menegon, Fabio Pupin, and Simon Loader—have made it their mission to document the little-known reptiles and amphibians in these so-called sky islands, many of which are highly imperiled.
86 percent of big animals in the Sahara Desert are extinct or endangered
(12/03/2013) Bigger than all of Brazil, among the harshest ecosystems on Earth, and largely undeveloped, one would expect that the Sahara desert would be a haven for desert wildlife. One would anticipate that big African animals—which are facing poaching and habitat loss in other parts of the world—would thrive in this vast wilderness. But a new landmark study in Diversity and Distributions finds that the megafauna of the Sahara desert are on the verge of total collapse.
22,000 elephants slaughtered for their ivory in 2012
(12/02/2013) As the African Elephant Summit open in Botswana today, conservationists released a new estimate of the number of African elephants lost to the guns of poachers last year: 22,000. Some 15,000 elephants killed in 42 sites across 27 countries on the continent, according to newly released data from the CITES program, Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE). But conservationists estimate another 7,000 went unreported. The number killed is a slight decrease over 2011 numbers of 25,000.
28 percent of potential bonobo habitat remains suitable
(11/27/2013) Only 27.5 percent of potential bonobo habitat is still suitable for the African great ape, according to the most comprehensive study of species' range yet appearing in Biodiversity Conservation. 'Bonobos are only found in lowland rainforest south of the sweeping arch of the Congo River, west of the Lualaba River, and north of the Kasai River,' lead author Jena Hickey with Cornell told mongabay.com. 'Our model identified 28 percent of that range as suitable for bonobos. This species of ape could use much more of its range if it weren't for the habitat loss and forest fragmentation that gives poachers easier access to illegally hunt bonobos.'
Controversial palm oil project approved in Cameroon rainforest
(11/26/2013) A controversial palm oil project set in the West African rainforest in Cameroon has won a three-year provisional lease to convert 20,000 hectares of land for plantations. The project, which is run by U.S.-based Herakles Farms, has been heavily opposed by environmental groups who say it will destroy blocks of wildlife-rich forest.
Consumer report uncovers why people buy rhino horn
(11/26/2013) The rhinoceros is one of the largest and most iconic animals to roam the earth. However, poaching for their horn, erroneously believed to have medicinal value, has led the IUCN Red List to classify three of the world's five species as Critically Endangered. But, a new consumer report by the wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, finds that rhino horn consumers in Vietnam buy the illegal product as much to raise their social status as to attempt to treat a fever or hangover.
Elusive giraffe-relative - the okapi - now listed as Endangered
(11/26/2013) The discovery of the okapi shocked the world in 1901. African explorer, Henry Stanley, called it 'donkey-like,' while others thought it a new species of zebra, given the stripes. However, this notoriously-secretive rainforest ungulate proved to be the world's only living relative of the giraffe, making it one of most incredible taxonomic discoveries of the Twentieth Century as well as one of the last large-bodied mammals to be uncovered by scientists. But the future of the okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is increasingly in doubt: a new update of the IUCN Red List released today has raised the threatened level for the okapi from Vulnerable to Endangered.
New children's book celebrates the rich wildlife of Kibale National Park
(11/25/2013) There are many ways in which people practice conservation. The most well-known are working to save species in the field or setting up protected areas. But just as important—arguably more important for long-term conservation success—is conservation education, especially with children. Anyone who grew up watching David Attenborough documentaries, reading Gerald Durrell books, or simply exploring ecosystems on their own can tell you how important it is to encounter the wonders of wildlife at a young age. And for many of us most of our first encounters with wild animals are in illustrated books. Eric Losh's new book, The Chorus of Kibale, not only provides an educational opportunity for children to become acquainted with the many animals in Kibale National park in Uganda—through wonderful pictures and sounds—but proceed also go directly to two conservation groups working in the region, U.N.I.T.E. for the environment and the Primate Education Network (PEN).
Satellites reveal browning mountain forests
(11/22/2013) In a dramatic response to global warming, tropical forests in the high elevation areas of five continents have been "browning" since the 1990s. They have been steadily losing foliage, and showing less photosynthetic activity. Scientists analyzed the forest cover by using satellites to measure sunlight bouncing off the surface of the earth, then determining the different surface types via reflection patterns.
Remote sensor captures sound of ivory poacher shooting an elephant
(11/20/2013) A sensor used by researchers to capture low-frequency communication between elephants inadvertently recorded the audio of an elephant being gunned down by a poacher in Gabon, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society, which used the sound byte in a video highlighting the carnage of the ivory trade.
Timber smuggling continues in Madagascar
(11/18/2013) Stocks of rosewood illegally harvested during in the aftermath of Madagascar's 2009 coup are being steadily smuggled off the Indian Ocean island, reports a paper published in the journal MADAGASCAR CONSERVATION & DEVELOPMENT.
Prize exploring the next big idea in rainforest conservation announced
(11/16/2013) Mongabay.org, a non-profit that aims to raise awareness about social and environmental issues relating to tropical forests and other ecosystems, has announced the first winner of its environmental reporting prize its Special Reporting Initiative (SRI) program. The prize sought proposals to explore the question of what's the next big idea in tropical biodiversity conservation. After a two-month application window and a month of deliberations, this week an independent panel of journalists and tropical forest specialists selected environmental journalist Wendee Nicole as the first recipient of the Mongabay Prize for Environmental Reporting.
Coelacanths might be monogamous, to the surprise of researchers
(11/14/2013) They evaded humans for millions of years and live very private lives. The hulking, fleshy-finned fish known as the coelacanth has beguiled scientists for generations. But the coelacanth mystique that enchants researchers also makes it difficult to study. Researchers recently revealed in Nature Communications one startling aspect of the coelacanth lifestyle: they might be monogamous.
Five new, cryptic bats discovered in Senegal
(11/11/2013) An international research team led by Daurina Koubinova has discovered five new species of vesper bats during a series of expeditions to Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park. The new species are considered cryptic, because their genetic makeup is different despite physical similarities. The new bats have yet to be named.
New campaign: hey China, stop killing the 'pandas of Africa'
(10/29/2013) A new public-service campaign in China will ask potential ivory and rhino horn buyers to see the victims of these illicit trades in a new light: as the "pandas of Africa." The posters are a part of WildAid's 'Say No to Ivory and Rhino Horn' campaign, which was launched earlier in the year.
Honey badgers and more: camera traps reveal wealth of small carnivores in Gabon (photos)
(10/17/2013) Gabon has lost most of its big meat-eaters including lions, spotted hyenas, and African wild dogs (although it's still home to leopards), but a new study focuses on the country's lesser-known species with an appetite for flesh. For the first time, researchers surveyed Gabon's small carnivores, including 12 species from the honey badger (Mellivora capensis) to the marsh mongoose (Atilax paludinosus).
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.