Known as the heart of darkness by Joseph Conrad, the Congo region has long conjured up thoughts of pygmies, mythical beasts, dreadful plagues, and cannibals. It is a land made famous by the adventures of Stanley and Livingstone and known as a place of brutality and violence for its past -- the days of the Arab slave and ivory trade, its long history of tribal warfare -- and its present -- the ethnic violence and massacres of today.
The Congo is the Earth's second largest river by volume and has the world's second largest rainforest (18% of the planet's remaining tropical rainforest). The Congo Basin represents 70% of the African continent's plant cover and makes up a large portion of Africa's biodiversity with over 600 tree species and 10 000 animal species. Six nations -- Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon -- share the 1.5 million square mile Congo basin.
The Congo is one of the world's most threatened ecosystems. Commercial logging, clearing for subsistence agriculture, and widespread civil strife has devastated forests, displaced forest dwellers, and resulted in the expansion of the "bushmeat" trade. Since the 1980s, Africa has had the highest deforestation rates of any region on the globe.
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [citation]
Elephants massacred for ivory in Central African Republic
Dozens of elephants have been slaughtered in the Dzanga Bai World Heritage Site in the Central African Republic just days after conservationists warned about an impending threat from the movement of 17 heavily armed poachers. The massacre occurred at a site renowned as 'village of elephants', where tourists and scientists have for decades observed wild elephants congregating at a large clearing to feed on minerals.
17 poachers allegedly enter elephant stronghold in Congo, conservationists fear massacre
Local researchers and wildlife guards say 17 armed elephant poachers have gained access to Dzanga Bai, a large waterhole and clearing where up to 200 forest elephants visit daily in the Central African Republic (CAR)'s Dzanga-Ndoki National Park. WWF, which works in the region but has recently evacuated due to rising violence, is calling on the CAR government to rapidly mobilize its military to stop another elephant bloodbath in central Africa. Elephants are being killed across their range for their ivory, which is mostly smuggled to East Asia.
Conservation policies that boost farm yields may ultimately undermine forest protection, argues study
Rising agricultural profitability due to higher prices, improved crop productivity, and forest conservation itself could make it increasingly difficult for conservation programs tied to payments for ecosystem services to succeed, warns a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Beautiful striped bat is the "find of a lifetime" (photos)
Scientists have uncovered a rare, brilliantly-striped bat in South Sudan that has yielded new secrets after close study. Working in Bangangai Game Reserve during July of last year, biologist DeeAnn Redeer and conservationist Adrian Garsdie with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) came across an unmissable bat, which has been dubbed by various media outlets as the "badger bat" and the "panda bat."
An insidious threat to tropical forests: over-hunting endangers tree species in Asia and Africa
A fruit falls to the floor in a rainforest. It waits. And waits. Inside the fruit is a seed, and like most seeds in tropical forests, this one needs an animal—a good-sized animal—to move it to a new place where it can germinate and grow. But it may be waiting in vain. Hunting and poaching has decimated many mammal and bird populations across the tropics, and according to two new studies the loss of these important seed-disperser are imperiling the very nature of rainforests.
Infamous elephant poacher turns cannibal in the Congo
Early on a Sunday morning last summer, the villagers of Epulu awoke to the sounds of shots and screaming. In the eastern reaches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that can often mean another round of violence and ethnic murder is under way. In this case, however, something even more horrific was afoot.
Forging zoos into global conservation centers, an interview with Cristian Samper, head of WCS
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is one of the world's leading environmental organizations. Founded in 1895 (originally as the New York Zoological Society), the WCS manages 200 million acres of wild places around the globe, with over 500 field conservation projects in 65 countries, and 200 scientists on staff. The WCS also runs five facilities in New York City: the Central Park Zoo, the New York Aquarium, Prospect Park and Queens Zoos, and the world renowned Bronx Zoo.
Seeing the forest through the elephants: slaughtered elephants taking rainforest trees with them
Elephants are vanishing. The booming illegal ivory trade is decimating the world's largest land animal, but no place has been harder hit than the Congo basin and its forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). The numbers are staggering: a single park in Gabon, Minkebe National Park, has seen 11,100 forest elephants killed in the last eight years; Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has lost 75 percent of its elephants in fifteen years; and a new study in PLoS ONE estimates that in total 60 percent of the world's forest elephants have been killed in the last decade alone. But what does that mean for the Congo forest?
62% of all Africa's forest elephants killed in 10 years (warning: graphic images)
More than 60 percent of Africa's forest elephants have been killed in the past decade due to the ivory trade, reports a new study published in the online journal PLOS ONE. The study warns that the diminutive elephant species — genetically distinct from the better-known savanna elephant — is rapidly heading toward extinction.
New illegal logging ban in EU could sever all ties with companies working in DRC
Yesterday, the EU joined the U.S. and Australia in banning all timber that was illegally harvested abroad. The new regulation could have a major impact on where the EU sources its timber, and no where more so than the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to a new report by Greenpeace, the DRC's current moratorium on industrial logging is being systematically circumvented making all timber from the country suspect.
Elephant massacre in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
A key Congo wildlife reserve has lost 75 percent of its elephants in just 15 years due to poaching to meet Asian demand for ivory, reports a new survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Democratic Republic of Congo authorities.
Warlords, sorcery, and wildlife: an environmental artist ventures into the Congo
Last year, Roger Peet, an American artist, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to visit one of the world's most remote and wild forests. Peet spent three months in a region that is largely unknown to the outside world, but where a group of conservationists, headed by Terese and John Hart, are working diligently to create a new national park, known as Lomami. Here, the printmaker met a local warlord, discovered a downed plane, and designed a tomb for a wildlife ranger killed by disease, in addition to seeing some of the region's astounding wildlife. Notably, the burgeoning Lomami National Park is home to the world's newest monkey species, only announced by scientists last September.
Activists warn of industrial palm oil expansion in Congo rainforest
Industrial oil palm plantations are spreading from Malaysia and Indonesia to the Congo raising fears about deforestation and social conflict. A new report by The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), dramatically entitled The Seeds of Destruction, announces that new palm oil plantations in the Congo rainforest will soon increase fivefold to half a million hectares, an area nearly the size of Delaware. But conservationists warn that by ignoring the lessons of palm oil in Southeast Asia, this trend could be disastrous for the region's forests, wildlife, and people.
Controversial palm oil project concession in Cameroon is 89 percent 'dense natural forest'
Satellite mapping and aerial surveys have revealed that a controversial palm oil concession in Cameroon is almost entirely covered by "dense natural forest," according to a new report by Greenpeace. The activist group alleges that the concession, owned by Herakles Farms, is under 89 percent forest cover. The U.S.-based corporation intends to build a 70,000 hectare palm oil plantation in a region surrounded by four protected areas, including Korup National Park, but has faced stiff criticism from numerous environmental groups as well as conflict with locals.
Over 11,000 elephants killed by poachers in a single park [warning: graphic photo]
Surveys in Gabon's Minkebe National Park have revealed rare and hard data on the scale of the illegal ivory trade over the last eight years: 11,100 forest elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks in this remote protected area since 2004. In all, poachers have cut down the park's elephant population by two-thirds, decimating what was once believed to be the largest forest elephant population in the world.
Gorilla paradise: new park safeguards 15,000 western lowland gorillas
In 2008 the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced a jaw-dropping discovery: remote swamp forests in northern Republic of Congo contained a stunning population of 125,000 western lowland gorillas that had somehow gone unnoticed by scientists. At the time the President of WCS, Steven E. Sanderson, called the area the "mother lode of gorillas," and expressed hope that the discovery would lead to a new park. Well, late last year, a park was finalized.
The year in rainforests
2012 was another year of mixed news for the world's tropical forests. This is a look at some of the most significant tropical rainforest-related news stories for 2012. There were many other important stories in 2012 and some were undoubtedly overlooked in this review. If you feel there's something we missed, please feel free to highlight it in the comments section. Also please note that this post focuses only on tropical forests.
DR Congo gets first validated and verified REDD+ project
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has its first Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) project validated and verified under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).
Congo ranger ambushed and killed defending wildlife
Atamato Madrandele, Chief Warden of Upemba National Park, was ambushed and killed December 16, 2012 by Mai Mai militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reports the Upemba Conservation Project.
Okapi Conservation Project wins mongabay's 2012 conservation award
A group that works to protect the rare okapi, a type of forest giraffe found only in the Congo Basin, has has won mongabay.com's 2012 conservation award. The Okapi Conservation Project has been working to protect the okapi and its habitat in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for 25 years. The group was instrumental in establishing the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a 13,700-square-kilometer tract of wilderness in the Ituri Forest of northeastern DRC. While the Okapi Conservation Project has had a long track record of success, earlier this year it was devastated by a brutal attack on the reserve's headquarters. Two wildlife rangers were among the six people killed during June 24 assault.
Mountain gorilla population up by over 20 percent in five years
A mountain gorilla census in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has a population that continues to rise, hitting 400 animals. The new census in Bwindi means the total population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) has reached 880—up from 720 in 2007—and marking a growth of about 4 percent per year.
Foreign loggers and corrupt officials flouting logging moratorium in the Democratic Republic of Congo
In 2002 the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced a moratorium on commercial logging in a bid to save rapidly falling forests, however a new report by Global Witness alleges that industrial loggers are finding a way around the logging freeze. Through unscrupulous officials, foreign companies are abusing artisanal permits—meant for local community logging—to clear-cut wide swathes of tropical forest in the country. These logging companies are often targeting an endangered tree—wenge (Millettia laurentii)—largely for buyers in China and Europe.
'The ivory trade is like drug trafficking' (warning graphic images)
For the past five years, Spanish biologist Luis Arranz has been the director of Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Arranz and a team of nearly 240 people, 140 guards among them, work to protect a vast area of about 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) of virgin forest, home to a population of more than 2.300 elephants that are facing a new and more powerful enemy. The guards are encountering not only bigger groups of poachers, but with ever more sophisticated weapons. According to Arranz, armed groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army from Uganda are now killing elephants for their ivory.
Rebels kill 3 rangers in Congo's Virunga National Park
Mai-Mai PARECO rebels attacked a ranger patrol in Virunga National Park killing two park staff and one government soldier, reports Gorilla.cd, the park's official web site.
NASA satellites catch vast deforestation inside Virunga National Park
Two satellite images by NASA, one from February 13, 1999 and the other from September 1, 2008 (see below), show that Virunga National Park is under assault from deforestation. Located in the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) the park has been assailed by entrenched conflict between rebels and government forces, as well as slash-and-burn farming, the charcoal trade, and a booming human population.
British government comes out against drilling in Virunga National Park by UK company
The British government has come out in opposition against oil drilling plans by UK-based, SOCO International, in Virunga National Park, reports Reuters. The first national park established on the continent, Virunga is home to one of only two populations of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the world. In March of this year, two oil exploratory permits came to light granting SOCO seismic testing inside the park by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Illegal logging worth $30-100B annually
Illegal logging accounts for 15-30 percent of forestry in the tropics and is worth $30-100 billion worldwide, alleges a new report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL. Consuming countries play a major role in the trade, which is increasingly sophisticated and in some places is facilitated by the expansion of industrial plantations.
Rarest gorillas lose half their habitat in 20 years
Cross River gorillas and eastern gorillas lost more than half their habitat since the early 1990s due to deforestation, logging, and other human activities, finds a comprehensive new assessment across great apes' range in West and Central Africa.
Rodents have lowest diversity in primary forests in the Congo
For many animal families, diversity and abundance rises as one moves away from human-impacted landscapes, like agricultural areas, into untouched places, such as primary rainforests. However, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, shows that the inverse can also be true. In this case, scientists working in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Maskao Forest found that both rodent diversity and abundance was lowest in primary forest.
Remarkable new monkey discovered in remote Congo rainforest
In a massive, wildlife-rich, and largely unexplored rainforest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), researchers have made an astounding discovery: a new monkey species, known to locals as the 'lesula'. The new primate, which is described in a paper in the open access PLoS ONE journal, was first noticed by scientist and explorer, John Hart, in 2007. John, along with his wife Terese, run the TL2 project, so named for its aim to create a park within three river systems: the Tshuapa, Lomami and the Lualaba (i.e. TL2), a region home to bonobos, okapi, forest elephants, Congo peacock, as well as the newly-described lesula.