The rainforest itself is one of the most important stretches of wilderness areas left on the planet. It spans across six countries covering a staggering 500 million acres. It is bigger than the state of Alaska and is currently the second largest tropical forest, so it should definitely be considered as one of the lungs of the Earth.
Consisting of a beautiful array of rivers, forests, savannas and swamps, it is bursting with all kinds of wildlife. The countries it inhabits are Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Cameroon.
The gigantic forest is home to approximately 10,000 species of tropical plants while about 30% of them are native to the region. It is also home to some of the worlds endangered species such as the majestic forest elephants, bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas of the lowland and mountain. A further 400 other species of mammals, 1,000 species of birds and about 700 species of fish have been identified so far.
It isn’t just inhabited by weird and wonderful creatures of the Earth, it has also been home to humans for more than 50,000 years as it provides a good source of food, water and shelter. The current human population in the region stands at more than 75 million people.
There are more than 100 different distinct ethnic groups that exist and the region’s Ba’Aka people are among the most well known representatives of an ancient hunter-gatherer way of life. They live intimately with the forest.
The greatest asset to the rainforest is her abundance in natural resources such as timber, diamonds and petroleum. However, current methods and rates of extracting these resources are extremely unsustainable and detrimental to the fragile eco-system. The future of this vast wilderness is under immense pressure and threat. Furthermore, the growing commercialized bush meat market threatens to wipe out many already vulnerable species due to the extreme hunting methods.
Natural resources in demand
The basin is extremely rich in wood, oil and minerals such as diamonds, gold and coltan.
*Coltan can be found in the cell phone or laptop that you may be using to read this article. The extraction of coltan has many negative effects and it has been known to be an advocate of slave labour. Mined by rebels and foreign forces are sold to foreign corporations. It has been deemed by the United Nations in its reports on the Congo that it serves as the engine of the conflict in the DRC.
The sad truth is that the global demand is increasing for these materials as many people around the world and their livelihoods depend on the extraction of these resources.
A growing percentage to an already large area of the Congo Basin is under concession to logging and mining companies. These industries bring large groups of people to the forest and alongside that comes their need for food, water and shelter, thus including bush meat and fuel wood.
WWF highlighted “In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), refugees from armed conflict are forced to live off the land with severe impacts to forests and wildlife. For example, the demand for fuelwood and charcoal has led to deforestation in Virunga National Park, the oldest national park in Africa. Palm oil plantations and other commercial agriculture operations are a growing threat, putting greater pressure on the Congo’s forests and rivers.“
The on-going infrastructure projects – such as roads and dams – have detrimental impacts on the environment which subsequently increases access to remote areas of the forest to hunters.
Illegal trade of wildlife
One of the greatest causes to the loss of wildlife in the Congo Rainforest is the intense commercial bush meat trade. Unfortunately, this trade is driven by a rapidly increasing market. In the DRC alone, over a million tons of bush meat are consumed each year.
This alarmingly profitable business is causing the forest to lose many of its native species. Like monkeys and antelope are especially common targets. Gorillas and bonobos are also severely at risk.
There are many challenges in combating the detrimental industries to this utopian region of mid-western Africa. Challenges for the bush meat consist of a more moral and ethical compass in trying to put a halt to this industry. In remote areas, bush meat is the primary source of income for families, as it is the only export that will earn them profit.
A more well known international demand in the form of ivory still drives the mass killing of elephants, unfortunately leading to regional extinctions. Somewhat are calling it an elephant genocide and if this process fails to stop, we could to see the elimination of elephants entirely.
Why we need to save
The forest is something the people living within them have inherited from their ancestors. They are essentially the children of the forest. The people within them feel the need to protect them because its their main resource for food, fresh water and shelter. These indigenous people get everything from the forest and these people are in danger.
Ba’Aka people have been living in The Congo Rainforest for many generations and are commonly accepted as the first inhabitants of the region. Their economic system is based on hunting and gathering so these people are extremely native to the land without any influence from the outside world. Their ancestors told them to depend on the forest and to protect it carefully as it cares for them, however, the trees are sadly being cut down for means outside of the forest. Of course, this causes great distress to the people of the forest who see it as a home and region of sacred land.
The Ba’Aka’s face large amounts of discrimination and marginalization which prohibits them from having any input in the decisions being made about the land they occupy. When someone or in this case – groups of people – are unable to defend themselves against others, they are in danger. To stop forest destruction and help the indigenous people preserve their land, innovative projects such as combining local knowledge and innovative technology to help the Ba’Aka map their territories and increase their chance of survival, as well as that of the forest.
Preserving the forest is not only about the indigenous populations, but of course the plants, the trees and the diverse wildlife that inhabits these lands. Ways to save include empowering local communities which seem to have the biggest affect over some other methods. This includes gorilla-based tourism which helps raise funds to protect national parks and help local communities. Tourism fees generate much needed revenue for both the park and local communities.
Furthermore, In the Democratic Republic of Congo, WWF introduced farmers to new types of crops and innovative methods to grow them so farming operations do not encroach upon nearby forest or harm wildlife.
Spread awareness by doing your bit to promote the welfare of this land.
Credit: William Wand – The Figure Head
Inspiration – SaveCongoForest (Twitter)