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Learning About the Indonesia and Congo Basin Rainforest

written by: Terrie Schultz•edited by: Jason C. Chavis•updated: 6/9/2010

The rainforests of Indonesia and the Congo Basin are home to a vast number of plants and animals, but due to deforestation and environmental damage, their size is diminishing and many species that live there are endangered. Learning all about Indonesia and Congo basin rainforest is important.

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    Facts About Rainforests of Indonesia

    Learning all about Indonesia and Congo basin rainforest, we'll look at Indonesia first. Indonesia is an archipelago consisting of 17,000 islands and nearly half of the land area is covered by forests. Due to Indonesia's unique location near the equator and surrounded by water, its climate was relatively unaffected by the ice ages and its ancient forests originated 70 million years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch.

    The biodiversity in the rainforests in Indonesia is among the highest on Earth, with over 3,300 known species of animals and birds, and more than 29,000 species of plants making their home there. Some of the species of animals inhabiting the Indonesian rainforests include:

    • Sumatran rhinoceros- critically endangered, the smallest species of rhinoceros is found in the forests of Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo.
    • Orangutan- known as the "red people of the forest," there are only two species of orangutan, the Sumatran and Bornean, both endangered by deforestation, hunting and illegal trade.
    • Sumatran tiger- threatened by poaching and deforestation, there are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left.
    • Sumatran elephant- the smallest species of Asian elephant, Sumatran elephants are severely affected by habitat loss.

    There are numerous factors threatening the land and animals of the Indonesian rainforests. Mining is a significant threat, as copper, silver and gold mines such as the Freeport mining operation in Irian Jaya generate hundreds of thousands of tons of waste daily. Sediment dumped into streams has decimated the fish populations living in wetlands downstream from the mines.

    Additional causes of damage to Indonesian rainforests include logging, poaching, and clearing forest land for agriculture, which is often done by burning, resulting in widespread air pollution.

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    Facts About Rainforests of the Congo Basin

    The Congo Basin is home to the second largest rainforest on Earth, stretching across 500 million acres and six countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo.) Due to the large amount of carbon dioxide that it takes up and converts to oxygen, the Congo Basin is called the second lung of the Earth (the first lung being the Amazon rainforest). The rainforests of the Congo Basin are comprised of a diverse mixture of different ecosystems and habitats, including highland and lowland forests, rivers and swamps.

    The biodiversity of the Congo Basin rainforests is extensive, with an estimated 400 species of mammals, 700 species of fish, 1,000 species of birds and over 10,000 species of plants. Some species living in the Congo Basin include:

    • Bonobos- belonging to the same genus as chimpanzees, bonobos are the primate species most closely related to humans. They are found nowhere else in the world, and are threatened by hunters and loss of habitat.
    • Mountain gorillas- threatened by hunting, poaching, habitat loss and disease, ony 700 mountain gorillas are left in the wild.
    • Forest elephants- African forest elephants are smaller than savanna elephants and have downward reaching tusks. They are threatened mainly due to the illegal trade in ivory.
    • Okapi- found living only in DR Congo, okapis have distinctive brown and white striped legs and are known as forest giraffes.
    • Leatherback turtle- the Congo Basin's Atlantic coast is the leatherback sea turtle's largest nesting ground.

    Deforestation is occurring at a rapid rate in the rainforests of the Congo Basin. Forests are being cleared to provide land for subsistence farming and by logging of hardwood for export to Europe, the United States and China. In addition to habitat loss, deforestation causes desertification and erosion, and is a major cause of carbon emissions. Other threats to plant and animal biodiversity include bushmeat hunting, trapping animals for export as exotic pets, poaching, fuel collecting and oil and gas exploration.

    Efforts are being made to halt the destruction of the Indonesian and Congo Basin rainforests, but it may be too late for many of the species that live there.