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.