Conservation in the Congo Rainforest
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has the greatest extent of tropical rainforests in Africa, covering more than 100 million hectares. The forests in the eastern sector are amazingly diverse as one of the few forest areas in Africa to have survived the ice age. About 45 percent of DR Congo is covered by primary forest which provides a refuge for several large mammal species driven to extinction in other African countries. Overall, the country is known to have more than 11,000 species of plants, 450 mammals, 1,150 birds, 300 reptiles, and 200 amphibians.
Now that peace has returned to the region, significant efforts are underway to protect the Congo Basin's remaining wild areas and wildlife. Still some countries are making better progress than others.
Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa, Congo DRC)
While DR Congo's protected areas have faced a number of challenges in recent years, the country has a long history of national parks including being the first country in Africa to create a national park (Virunga National Park for mountain gorillas in 1925). Already more than 8 percent of DR Congo is protected in reserves, and the government has announced it aims to expand these conservation areas to 10-15 percent of the country. Traditionally, parks in DR Congo have been well-managed compared to protected areas in surrounding countries. Before the war, parks were largely funded by fees collected from tourists, so there is hope that returning tourists—encouraged by wildlife and the reconstruction of park facilities—will boost conservation in the country. Still, tourists will not return unless they can be assured that the country is once again safe for foreigners. In the immediate future, Congo's parks will need to overcome a number of challenges including corruption, continued incursions by armed militias, weak law enforcement, and lack of funds.
DR Congo's government has lately taken a strong interest in protecting the country's forests. In 2002, the government imposed a ban on the allocation of new logging concessions. While the moratorium was widely ignored, in 2005 the government received a $90-million grant from the World Bank to help it police existing forestry concessions, control new concessions, and develop sustainable management plans for its forests. The government also joined the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, a group of tropical developing nations that sought—and won—money from industrial countries for rainforest protection at the November 2005 climate conference in Montreal.
In coming years the government of DR Congo will be in the unenviable position of having to balance the need to conserve its forests with the needs of its increasingly destitute population—all the while trying to promote stability and economic growth, while servicing its debt. There will be considerable pressure to turn towards forests—at least 60 percent of which are loggable—as a source of income. The economy of DR Congo has long been highly dependent on natural resource extraction—especially timber harvesting and mining—and this is unlikely to change in the near future.
Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)
The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) is second only to the Democratic Republic of Congo in terms of tropical rainforest coverage among African countries. It is also strikingly diverse for its size—home to 597 species of birds, 166 mammals, 58 amphibians, 149 reptiles, and more than 6,000 species of plants.
Gorilla in Gabon. More pictures of Gabon
Rainforests absorb 20% of emissions annually
Undisturbed tropical forests are absorbing nearly a fifth of carbon dioxide released annually by the burning of fossil fuels, according to an analysis of 40 years of data from rainforests in the Central African country of Gabon. Writing in the journal Nature, Simon Lewis and colleagues report that natural forests are an immense carbon sink, helping slow the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels.
Mountain gorilla population in DR Congo increases 12.5%
The population of critically endangered mountain gorillas in Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park increased 12.5 percent in the past 16 months according to a census conducted by the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN). 81 gorillas now live permanently in the park, up from 72 in August 2007.
Congo cancels logging contracts covering 13M hectares
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) canceled nearly 60 percent of the country's timber contracts following a review of 156 logging concessions granted in recent years, reports Reuters. The anti-corruption probe found that 91 deals covering nearly 13 million of hectares of forest were granted under questionable circumstances or during a moratorium on logging contracts following the 1998-2003 civil war.
Commercial bushmeat trade is devastating wildlife
Commercial killing of rainforest wildlife is putting biodiversity at risk and reducing sources of protein for rural populations, warns a new report from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB).
Markets could save rainforests: an interview with Andrew Mitchell
Markets may soon value rainforests as living entities rather than for just the commodities produced when they are cut down, said a tropical forest researcher speaking in June at a conservation biology conference in the South American country of Suriname. Andrew Mitchell, founder and director of the London-based Global Canopy Program (GCP), said he is encouraged by signs that investors are beginning to look at the value of services afforded by healthy forests.
Britain, Norway commit $210 million towards Congo rainforest conservation
The governments of Britain and Norway last week announced a $211 million (108 million) initiative to conserve rainforests in the Congo Basin. The plan calls for the use of an advanced satellite camera to monitor deforestation in the region and funding for community-based conservation projects.
Does logging contribute to AIDS deaths in Africa?
Logging activities in tropical Africa may pose hidden health risks to wildlife and humans according to a veterinary pathobiologist speaking at a scientific conference in Paramaribo, Suriname.
Congo pygmies use GPS to map eco-certified timber concession
Loggers have teamed with indigenous Pygmies to establish the largest ever eco-certified logging scheme.
Forest carbon credits could guide development in Congo
An initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by offering carbon credits to countries that reduce deforestation may be one of the best mechanisms for promoting sustainable development in Central Africa says a remote sensing expert from the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC). Dr. Nadine Laporte, an associate scientist with WHRC who uses remote sensing to analyze land use change in Africa, says that REDD could protect forests, safeguard biodiversity, and improve rural livelihoods in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other Central African nations.
Indigenous peoples of Congo map their forests with GPS in an effort to save them
This week over five hundred villagers in the Democratic Republic of Congo's rainforest will employ GPS technology to map their forests in an effort to preserve their territory from logging companies.
Biochar fund to fight hunger, energy poverty, deforestation, and global warming
Biopact, a leading bioenergy web site, has announced the creation of a "Biochar Fund" to help poor farmers improve their quality of life without hurting the environment.
Returns from carbon offsets could beat palm oil in Congo DRC
A proposal to pay the Democratic of Congo (DRC) for reducing deforestation could add 15-50 percent to the amount of international aid given to the warn-torn country, reports a new study published by scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC). The funds would help alleviate rural poverty while cutting emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting threatened biodiversity.
Logging roads rapidly expanding in Congo rainforest
Logging roads are rapidly expanding in the Congo rainforest, report researchers who have constructed the first satellite-based maps of road construction in Central Africa. The authors say the work will help conservation agencies, governments, and scientists better understand how the expansion of logging is impacting the forest, its inhabitants, and global climate.
Illegal logging threatens Congo's forests, global climate
Despite government and World Bank assurances to the contrary. a new report from Greenpeace finds that illegal logging is rampant in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The report, Carving up the Congo, reveals that in spite of a 2002 moratorium on new logging, over 15 million hectares of rainforest have been concessioned to loggers with little regard to the environmental impact or compensation to affected communities.
Nouabalé-Ndoki is one of Congo's best known and most important national parks. Located deep in the Congo Basin rainforest, this part is home to gorillas, chimps, forest elephants, buffalos, and bongos. It, together with Lobéké National Park in Cameroon and Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in the Central African Republic, forms a giant protected area consisting of primary lowland rainforest. In total, almost 16 percent of Congo's land area is under some form of protection.
In September 2006, the Republic of Congo announced plans to create two new protected areas spanning nearly one million hectares (3,800 square miles). The new protected areas are Ougoue-Lekiti National Park, in the western part of the country, and Ntokou-Pikounda, which lies southeast of Odzala Kokoua National Park.
Gabon is home to some of Africa's most biodiverse rainforests. With around 80 percent of the country forested, Gabon has an estimated 8,000-10,000 species of plants (20 percent of which are endemic), over 670 species of birds, and nearly 200 mammals including lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, 10 species of monkeys, forest elephants, and even hippos that surf ocean waves. The Central African country was the ending point of biologist Michael Fay's 455-day Megatransect across the Congo rainforest. Gabon is one of few places on Earth where primary tropical rainforest extends all the way to the beach. Offshore the country has a wealth of marine life including a large population of humpback whales.
In September 2002, at the World Summit in Johannesburg, Gabon announced the establishment of its first national park system consisting of a network of 13 parks that would cover 10 percent of the country's lands mass—10,000 square miles (25,900 sq. kilometers). Previously, Gabon lacked a park system and "protected areas" were sometimes open to logging. Less than 1 percent of Gabon was truly protected under the old system.
Cameroon currently lacks an effective protected-areas system. Eight percent of the country is under some form of protection on paper, but enforcement is weak and timber is illegally harvested from reserves and wildlife is poached. Conserving Cameroon's forests should be a top priority given their high level of biodiversity. The country has some 936 species of birds, 211 mammals, 322 reptiles, 192 amphibians, and 8,260 species of plants. Some of the better known protected areas in Cameroon are Campo Ma’an National Park, Dja Reserve, Lobeké National Park, Waza National Park, and Korup National Park. All have suffered from illegal incursions in recent years.
Central African Republic
Today about 16.6 percent of the Central African Republic is under some form of protection, though institutional support for protected areas has historically been weak, and hunters and loggers have continued to operate in national parks. The Central African Republic is home to about 3,600 species of plants, 663 birds, 131 mammals, 187 reptiles, and 29 amphibians.
Equatorial Guinea is located in a region of high animal diversity, including 194 species of mammals, 418 birds, and 91 reptiles (World Resources Institute). The country is also home to 3,250 species of plants. On paper, 16.8 percent of the country is under some form of protection
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Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [citation]