How many trees are in the congo rainforest


The Congo Rainforest

 

By Rhett A. Butler
August 1, 2020

The Congo is the Earth's second largest river by volume, draining an area of 3.7 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles) known as the Congo Basin. Much of the basin is covered by rich tropical rainforests and swamps. Together these ecosystems make up the bulk of Central Africa's rainforest, which at 178 million hectares (2005) is the world's second largest rainforest.

  Lowland gorilla in Gabon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler  

The Congo Rainforest

While nine countries (Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia) have part of their territory in the Congo Basin, conventionally six countries with extensive forest cover in the region are generally associated with the Congo rainforest: Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. (Technically most of Gabon and parts of the Republic of Congo are in the Ogooue River Basin, while a large chunk of Cameroon is in the Sanaga River Basin). Of these six countries, DRC contains the largest area of rainforest, with 107 million hectares, amounting to 60 percent of Central Africa's lowland forest cover.

Map Africa's tropical rainforests. Click to enlarge. NASA images of the Congo Basin.
CountryPrimary forest extent
2020
(million hectares)
Primary forest extent
Share of land mass
(million hectares)
Primary forest loss
2002-2019
Tree cover extent
2020
(million hectares)
Tree cover change
2002-2019
Cameroon1667402335%-3.3%255109134.2%
CAR56872139%-2.2%212261041.7%
DR Congo9975197044%-4. 6%1879517847.1%
Equatorial Guinea218736378%-2.6%25382724.3%
Gabon2243010687%-1.1%244087981.7%
Congo2082948161%-1.5%260414502.9%
TOTAL16756015642%-3.5%2876773215.6%

This data is from Global Forest Watch 2020 using a 30 percent tree cover thresh hold. All figures are hectares. The data includes tropical forest cover ranging from tropical dry forests to tropical rainforests.

The Congo rainforest is known for its high levels of biodiversity, including more than 600 tree species and 10,000 animal species. Some of its most famous residents include forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, okapi, leopards, hippos, and lions. Some of these species have a significant role in shaping the character of their forest home. For example, researchers have found that Central African forests generally have taller trees but lower density of small trees than forests in the Amazon or Borneo. The reason? Elephants, gorillas, and large herbivores keep the density of small trees very low through predation, reducing competition for large trees. But in areas where these animals have been depleted by hunting, forests tend to be shorter and denser with small trees. Therefore it shouldn't be surprising that old-growth forests in Central Africa store huge volumes of carbon in their vegetation and tree trunks (39 billion tons, according to a 2012 study), serving as an important buffer against climate change.

  Forest elephant in Gabon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler  

Threats to the Congo Rainforest

Central Africa's deforestation rate between 1990-2010 was the lowest of any major forest region in the world. However deforesation trended upward during the 2010s with expansion of industrial logging and conversion for large-scale agriculture.

The biggest drivers of deforestation in the Congo rainforest over the past 30 years have been small-scale subsistence agriculture, clearing for charcoal and fuelwood, urban expansion, and mining. Industrial logging has been the largest driver of forest degradation. However it's important not to understate the impact of logging in the region. Logging roads have opened up vast areas of the Congo to commercial hunting, leading to a poaching epidemic in some areas and a more than 60 percent drop in the region's forest elephant population in less than a decade. Furthermore, logging roads have provided access to speculators and small-holders who clear land for agriculture.

Looking forward, the biggest threats to the Congo rainforest come from industrial plantations, especially for palm oil, rubber, and sugar production.


Forest cover in the Congo Basin


Forest loss in the Congo Basin


Annual primary forest loss and tree cover loss in the Congo Basin since 2002.

 

Biodiversity in the Congo Rainforest

Relatve to other great rainforests, the Congo Basin is known for large, charismatic species of wildlife, including the lowland gorilla; the okapi, a type of forest giraffe; the bonobo; forest elephants; the chimpanzee; leopards; and hippos.

Research has shown that trees in the Congo basin tend to be taller and occur at a lower density compared with Southeast Asia and the Amazon.

Comparison between forests in Congo, Borneo, and the Amazon. Trees in the Congo rainforest are taller, occur at a lower density, and store a lot of carbon. More information.

 

Species counts for Congo Basin countries
CountryBirdsAmphibiansMammalsReptilesFishVascular
plants
D.R. Congo1087244430294148011007
Cameroon87421833528310428260
Gabon606961821387746651
Republic of Congo606751973447716000
Central African Republic711562191981643602
Equatorial Guinea43349174735513250

 

Key news articles about the Congo Rainforest

Oil exploration at odds with peatland protection in the Congo Basin
The peatlands of the Congo Basin are home to more than just massive carbon stocks and some of our closest — and most threatened — relatives in the animal kingdom, including gorillas and chimpanzees. They may also blanket a giant cauldron of oil, which is tempting investors and governments to develop Central Africa’s Cuvette Centrale, comprising these boggy forests. A recent report, published Feb. 28 and led by the investigative NGO Global Witness, suggests that the surging interest in the Cuvette Centrale’s potential oil reserves is overshadowing efforts to keep the ecosystem intact.

Subsistence farming topples forests near commercial operations in Congo
The effects of commercial logging, mining and farming can ripple beyond the boundaries of the operations, leading to the substantial loss and degradation of nearby forest for subsistence agriculture, a new study on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has found.

Saving the forests of the Congo Basin
It was an ambitious project from the start: to capture the Congo Basin rainforest in the pages of a book. Stretching across an area larger than Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest rainforest straddles six countries in Central Africa. Many are crippled by corruption, civil conflict, and seemingly solution-less problems at the intersection of poverty and environmental stewardship. The loss of the Congo Basin’s forests has lurched along more slowly than in the Amazon rainforest or the jungles of Southeast Asia, but many experts worry that that trend won’t hold. The region’s growing population and the need for economic development have already led to the rising destruction of unique ecosystems to make way for farms, mines and timber plantations.

To protect the Congolese peatlands, protect local land rights
LOKOLAMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Sometime in March, I found myself trudging forward in a remote swamp in the heart of the Congo rainforest. As I worriedly tried to keep my boots from getting sucked in by the soft, brown mud, I wondered how far we could go on. It was our final day. In the two weeks prior, our team of British and Congolese researchers, together with men from the local village of Lokolama, had cut a 4-kilometer (2. 5-mile) trail into this dense, swampy forest. It had proved to be painstakingly slow work. Some days were spent walking up and down the trail for up to eight hours, which only left us with a few hours of sunlight to actually work. But that day, upon reaching the furthest point yet, we tried to push for a few hundred meters more with the little light that was left — all to answer one big question: How much mud were we actually walking on?.

Report finds projects in DRC ‘REDD+ laboratory’ fall short of development, conservation goals
The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released a new report that found that 20 REDD+ projects in a province in DRC aren’t set to address forest conservation and economic development — the primary goals of the strategy.

Oil palm, rubber could trigger ‘storm’ of deforestation in the Congo Basin
Earthsight documented approximately 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of deforestation to clear the way for new rubber and oil palm plantations in Central Africa’s rainforest countries in the past five years. The team also found that companies in five Central African countries hold licenses for industrial agriculture on another 8,400 square kilometers (3,243 square miles) of land. The investigators warn that thousands of hectares of forest could fall to industrial agriculture in the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest, if governance of the forest doesn’t improve.

New carbon map will help protect the DRC’s rainforests
The DRC is home to 60 percent of the Congo rainforest, the second-largest contiguous tract of tropical forests in the world. Researchers were able to map the aboveground biomass in the DRC down to the one-hectare level using high-resolution airborne Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, in combination with satellite imagery and machine learning geospatial algorithms.

The people of DRC’s forests
The West African country of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to some of the world’s most important forest resources, but is plagued by a host of complex challenges. Here, Leonora Baumann and Etienne Maury tell a few stories of DRC’s forests through the eyes of the people who live there.

Successful forest protection in DRC hinges on community participation
The tens of millions of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo who depend on the forest must be considered to keep the world’s second largest rainforest intact.

World’s largest tropical peatlands discovered in swamp forests of Congo Basin
A study published in the journal Science Advances this month found that, between 2000 and 2013, the global area of intact forest landscape declined by 7.2 percent. Certification of logging concessions, which aims to ensure sustainable forest management practices, had a “negligible” impact on slowing the fragmentation of intact forest landscapes (IFLs) in the Congo Basin, according to the study.

Logging in certified concessions drove intact forest landscape loss in Congo Basin
The peatlands, which weren’t even known to exist as recently as five years ago, were revealed to cover 145,500 square kilometers (or more than 17,500 square miles), an area larger than England, and to sequester some 30 billion metric tons of carbon.

An agribusiness revolution is needed to save Africa’s last great apes
Since 2005 up to 227,000 square kilometers (87,645 square miles), an area nearly the size of Ghana, has been acquired in sub-Saharan Africa for large-scale agricultural and forestry concessions. And more concessions are on the way.

Roads to ruin: Africa’s massive infrastructure expansions could have major consequences
Dysfunction plagues DRC’s logging industry, say conservation and watchdog groups, but the government and timber companies want to grow the sector.

‘Chaos’ in Congo’s logging sector
Researchers find the continent’s “development corridors” stand to affect important wildlife habitat and thousands of protected areas.

Nearly 90 percent of logging in the DRC is illegal
The forestry sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is completely out of control, according to a new eye-opening report. Put together by the Chatham House, the report estimates that at least 87 percent of logging in the DRC was illegal in 2011, making the DRC possibly the most high-risk country in the world for purchasing legal wood products.

NGO hits out at study for downplaying logging threat in Congo rainforest
(07/23/2013) Global Witness has called in question conclusions reached in a study on logging in the Congo rainforest. The group, which has published a series of investigative reports on abuses by logging companies operating the world's second largest tropical forest, said that a review published Monday in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B '[presents] a misleading and inaccurate picture of the present and growing threats to the Congo Basin rainforest.'

Hunting, logging could threaten long-term health of Congo forests by wiping out key animals
(07/23/2013) Unsustainable hunting of forest elephants, gorillas, forest antelopes, and other seed-dispersers could have long-term impacts on the health and resilience of Congo Basin rainforests, warns a study published today in a special issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B. Conducting a review of more than 160 papers and reports on trends in wildlife populations, hunting, and land use in the Congo Basin, an international team of researchers conclude that unless effective management plans are put into place, hunting pressure in the region is likely to increase, with knock-on ecological effects.

Activists warn of industrial palm oil expansion in Congo rainforest
(02/21/2013) 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.

Foreign loggers and corrupt officials flouting logging moratorium in the Democratic Republic of Congo
(11/08/2012) 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.

Deforestation increases in the Congo rainforest
(03/20/2012) Deforestation in the Congo Basin has increased sharply since the 1990s, reports an extensive new assessment of forests in the six-nation region. Released by the Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC) and members of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, The State of the Forest finds that the region's annual gross deforestation rate doubled from 0.13 percent to 0.26 percent between the 1990s and the 2000-2005 period. Gross degradation caused by logging, fire, and other impacts increased from 0.07 percent to 0.14 percent on an annual basis. Despite the jump, rates in the Congo Basin remain well below those in Latin America and Southeast Asia, but the region is seen as a prime target for future agroindustrial expansion.

Unsung heroes: the life of a wildlife ranger in the Congo
(11/01/2011) The effort to save wildlife from destruction worldwide has many heroes. Some receive accolades for their work, but others live in obscurity, doing good—sometimes even dangerous—work everyday with little recognition. These are not scientists or big-name conservationists, but wildlife rangers, NGO staff members, and low level officials. One of these conservation heroes is Bunda Bokitsi, chief guard of the Etate Patrol Post for Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In a nation known for a prolonged civil war, desperate poverty, and corruption—as well as an astounding natural heritage—Bunda Bokitsi works everyday to secure Salonga National Park from poachers, bushmeat hunters, and trappers.

African forests store 25% of tropical forest carbon
(06/22/2011) Forests in sub-Saharan Africa account for roughly a quarter of total tropical forest carbon, according to a comprehensive assessment of the world's carbon stocks published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Logging roads rapidly expanding in Congo rainforest

(06/07/2007) 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.

 

  Okapi, a forest giraffe endemic to the Congo rainforest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler  

RECENT CONGO RAINFOREST NEWS

Easygoing bonobos accepting of outsiders, study says (Oct 10 2022)
- Bonobos are well known for their peaceable relations within family groups, but there’s less scientific consensus about how much tolerance they extend to individuals outside of their core groups.
- A recent study set out to examine this question by observing members of habituated bonobo communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and comparing their behavior to observations of chimpanzee groups in Uganda’s Kibale National Park.
- The researchers found that, compared to chimpanzees, bonobos maintain strong and distinct core groups, but also exhibit frequent and peaceable between-group interactions.
- The findings give conservationists a better understanding of bonobo social behavior, which in turn can inform conservation actions.

The mine leak was bad. The DRC and Angola’s response are no better, report says (Oct 4 2022)
- In July 2021, an Angolan diamond mine leaked large amounts of polluted water into the Kasai River Basin which stretches across Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Twelve people were killed, a further 4,400 fell ill and an estimated 1 million more were affected by the polluted water.
- Fourteen months later, the DRC government has not released full results of tests conducted on the rivers, but a ban on drinking the water from the Kasai and Tshikapa rivers remains in place.
- An independent report published in September 2022 has found that the leak killed off much of the rivers’ aquatic life, with severe and ongoing impacts on river-dependent communities.

Catfished: New species described from DRC after mistaken identity (Sep 30 2022)
- Scientists recently identified a new species of air-breathing catfish, Clarias monsembulai, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Salonga National Park — the first new species of catfish in the Clarias genus to be described in 42 years.
- It was named after Congolese researcher Raoul Monsembula, who collected samples of the species in 2006 and 2010 without realizing at the time that the fish was unknown to science.
- Experts say that species discoveries are very common in Salonga National Park due to the region’s rich biodiversity as well as the limited amount of research being done there.
- However, the area also faces numerous threats, including poaching and the possibility of fossil fuel extraction.

In Congo, a carbon sink like no other risks being carved up for oil (Jul 28 2022)
- New research has revealed that the peatlands of the Congo Basin are 15% larger than originally thought.
- This area of swampy forest holds an estimated 29 billion metric tons of carbon, which is the amount emitted globally through the burning of fossil fuels in three years.
- Beginning July 28, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where two-thirds of these peatlands lie, will auction off the rights to explore for oil in 27 blocks across the country.
- Scientists and conservationists have criticized the move, which the government says is necessary to fund its operations. Opponents say the blocks overlap with parts of the peatlands, mature rainforest, protected areas, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

‘That’s a scam’: Indian firm’s REDD+ carbon deal in the DRC raises concern (Jun 14 2022)
- Environmental and human rights advocacy organizations say an Indian company has misled communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, convincing them to sign away the rights to sell carbon credits from the restoration, reforestation or avoided deforestation of locally managed forests.
- These forests, managed under a structure known by the French acronym CFCL, provide communities with control over how land is managed while giving them access to the resources the forests provide, proponents of the initiative say.
- But the contracts, the implications of which were not fairly or adequately explained to community members, may restrict their access to the forests for generations to come, the advocacy groups say.
- These organizations and the communities are now calling on the Congolese government to cancel the contracts.

Loggers close in on one of the world’s oldest biosphere reserves (Jun 13 2022)
- An EL PAÍS/Planeta Futuro investigation exposes plans to open timber transport roads in a tropical forest connected to the Yangambi Man and Biosphere Reserve. The area, in northeastern DRC, is a wildlife corridor and a haven for chimpanzees, pangolins and Afrormosia, an endangered tree species traded in global markets.
- The timber, including hardwoods regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), is exported to the EU and the US.
- UNESCO is preparing an audit to salvage DRC’s three Man and Biosphere Reserves through better governance arrangements. They will also review the zoning of the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve to preserve high-conservation value areas.
- Mongabay has partnered with EL PAÍS/Planeta Futuro to publish this work in English. This story was produced with the support of the Rainforest Investigations Network (RIN) of the Pulitzer Center.

Ivory from at least 150 poached elephants seized in the DRC raid (May 18 2022)
- A three-year investigation has led authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to 2 metric tons of ivory hidden in a stash house in the southern city of Lubumbashi.
- The tusks are valued at $6 million on the international market and estimated to have come from more than 150 elephants.
- The three people arrested in the May 14 raid are allegedly members of a major wildlife trafficking ring in the Southern African region.

2021 tropical forest loss figures put zero-deforestation goal by 2030 out of reach (Apr 28 2022)
- The world lost a Cuba-sized area of tropical forest in 2021, putting it far off track from meeting the no-deforestation goal by 2030 that governments and companies committed to at last year’s COP26 climate summit.
- Deforestation rates remained persistently high in Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to the world’s two biggest expanses of tropical forest, negating the decline in deforestation seen in places like Indonesia and Gabon.
- The diverging trends in the different countries show that “it’s the domestic politics of forests that often really make a key difference,” says leading forest governance expert Frances Seymour.
- The boreal forests of Eurasia and North America also experienced a spike in deforestation last year, driven mainly by massive fires in Russia, which could set off a feedback loop of more heating and more burning.

In Nigeria, a decade of payoffs boosted global wildlife trafficking hub (Mar 4 2022)
- An investigation by Nigeria’s Premium Times and Mongabay has found evidence of systematic failure by Nigerian law enforcement and the judicial system to hold wildlife poachers and traffickers accountable.
- Our analysis of official wildlife crimes data, supported by numerous interviews with prosecutors, environmental campaigners and traders at wildlife markets in Lagos, Cross River, Abuja, Ogun and Bauchi states, found a near-total reliance on minor out-of-court settlements in trafficking cases.
- Despite numerous high-profile, multimillion-dollar trafficking busts at Nigeria’s ports since 2010, no one has faced jail terms as a result.
- The reliance on informal payments to local officials encourages corruption, experts say, while sporadic crackdowns on wildlife markets have not stopped traders operating in the country’s commercial capital.

 

Congo rainforest section contents:

 

Democratic Republic of the Congo | Culture, History, & People

flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Audio File: National anthem of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Head Of Government:
Prime Minister: Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge
Capital:
Kinshasa
Population:
(2022 est.) 108,408,000
Head Of State:
President: Félix Tshisekedi
Form Of Government:
unitary multiparty republic with two legislative houses (Senate [108]; National Assembly [500])

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Summary

Read a brief summary of this topic

Democratic Republic of the Congo, country located in central Africa. Officially known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country has a 25-mile (40-km) coastline on the Atlantic Ocean but is otherwise landlocked. It is the second largest country on the continent; only Algeria is larger. The capital, Kinshasa, is located on the Congo River about 320 miles (515 km) from its mouth. The largest city in central Africa, it serves as the country’s official administrative, economic, and cultural centre. The country is often referred to by its acronym, the DRC, or called Congo (Kinshasa), with the capital added parenthetically, to distinguish it from the other Congo republic, which is officially called the Republic of the Congo and is often referred to as Congo (Brazzaville).

Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960. From 1971 to 1997 the country was officially the Republic of Zaire, a change made by then ruler Gen. Mobutu Sese Seko to give the country what he thought was a more authentic African name. “Zaire” is a variation of a term meaning “great river” in local African languages; like the country’s current name, it refers to the Congo River, which drains a large basin that lies mostly in the republic. Unlike Zaire, however, the name Congo has origins in the colonial period, when Europeans identified the river with the kingdom of the Kongo people, who live near its mouth. Following the overthrow of Mobutu in 1997, the country’s name prior to 1971, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was reinstated. Congo subsequently was plunged into a devastating civil war; the conflict officially ended in 2003, although fighting continued in the eastern part of the country.

Congo is rich in natural resources. It boasts vast deposits of industrial diamonds, cobalt, and copper; one of the largest forest reserves in Africa; and about half of the hydroelectric potential of the continent.

Land

Congo is bounded to the north by the Central African Republic and South Sudan; to the east by Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania; to the southeast by Zambia; and to the southwest by Angola. To the west are the country’s short Atlantic coastline, the Angolan exclave of Cabinda, and Congo (Brazzaville).

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Relief

The country’s major topographical features include a large river basin, a major valley, high plateaus, three mountain ranges, and a low coastal plain. Most of the country is composed of the central Congo basin, a vast rolling plain with an average elevation of about 1,700 feet (520 metres) above sea level. The lowest point of 1,109 feet (338 metres) occurs at Lake Mai-Ndombe (formerly Lake Leopold II), and the highest point of 2,296 feet (700 metres) is reached in the hills of Mobayi-Mbongo and Zongo in the north. The basin may once have been an inland sea whose only vestiges are Lakes Tumba and Mai-Ndombe in the west-central region.

The north-south Western Rift Valley, the western arm of the East African Rift System, forms the country’s eastern border and includes Lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu, Tanganyika, and Mweru. This part of the country is the highest and most rugged, with striking chains of mountains. The Mitumba Mountains stretch along the Western Rift Valley, rising to an elevation of 9,800 feet (2,990 metres). The snow-covered peaks of the Ruwenzori Range between Lakes Albert and Edward lie astride the Ugandan border and mark the country’s highest elevation of 16,763 feet (5,109 metres) at Margherita Peak. The volcanic Virunga Mountains stretch across the Western Rift Valley north of Lake Kivu.

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High plateaus border almost every other side of the central basin. In the north the Ubangi-Uele plateaus form the divide between the Nile and Congo river basins. Rising to between 3,000 and 4,000 feet (915 and 1,220 metres), these plateaus also separate the central basin from the vast plains of the Lake Chad system. In the south the plateaus begin at the lower terraces of the Lulua and Lunda river valleys and rise gradually toward the east. In the southeast the ridges of the plateaus of Katanga (Shaba) province tower over the region; they include Kundelungu at 5,250 feet (1,600 metres), Mitumba at 4,920 feet (1,500 metres), and Hakansson at 3,610 feet (1,100 metres). The Katanga plateaus reach as far north as the Lukuga River and contain the Manika Plateau, the Kibara and the Bia mountains, and the high plains of Marungu.

The northern escarpment of the Angola Plateau rises in the southwest, while in the far west a coastal plateau zone includes the hill country of Mayumbe and the Cristal Mountains. A narrow coastal plain lies between the Cristal Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.

Drainage and soils

The Congo River, including its 1,336,000-square-mile (3,460,000-square-km) basin, is the country’s main drainage system. The river rises in the high Katanga plateaus and flows north and then south in a great arc, crossing the Equator twice. The lower river flows southwestward to empty into the Atlantic Ocean below Matadi. Along its course, the Congo passes through alluvial lands and swamps and is fed by the waters of many lakes and tributaries. The most important lakes are Mai-Ndombe and Tumba; the major tributaries are the Lomami, Aruwimi, and Ubangi rivers and those of the great Kasai River system. In addition, the Lukuga River links the basin to the Western Rift Valley.

Soils are of two types: those of the equatorial areas and those of the drier savanna (grassland) regions. Equatorial soils occur in the warm, humid lowlands of the central basin, which receive abundant precipitation throughout the year and are covered mainly with thick forests. This soil is almost fixed in place because of the lack of erosion in the forests. In swampy areas the very thick soil is constantly nourished by humus, the organic material resulting from the decomposition of plant or animal matter. Savanna soils are threatened by erosion, but the river valleys contain rich and fertile alluvial soils. The highlands of the Great Lakes region in eastern Congo are partly covered with rich soil derived from volcanic lava. This is the country’s most productive agricultural area.

Climate

Most of Congo lies within the inner humid tropical, or equatorial, climatic region extending five degrees north and south of the Equator. Southern Congo and the far north have somewhat drier subequatorial climates.

The seasonally mobile intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is a major determinant of the climate. Along this zone the trade winds originating in the Northern and Southern hemispheres meet, forcing unstable tropical air aloft. The air that is forced upward is cooled, and the resulting condensation produces prolonged and heavy precipitation. In July and August this zone of maximum precipitation occurs in the north; it then shifts into central Congo in September and October. Between November and February the southern parts of the country receive maximum precipitation. Thereafter the ITCZ moves northward again, crossing central Congo in March and April, so this zone has two rainfall maxima. The extreme eastern highlands lie outside the path of the ITCZ and are subject to the influence of the southeastern trade winds alone. In addition to the ITCZ, elevation and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its maritime influences also act as factors of climatic differentiation.

The country is divided into four major climatic regions. In the equatorial climate zone, temperatures are hot, the average monthly temperature rarely dropping below the mid-70s F (low to mid-20s C). Humidity is high, and it rains throughout the year. Annual precipitation at Eala, for example, averages 71 inches (1,800 mm). The tropical or subequatorial climate zone, marked by distinct dry and rainy seasons, is found north and south of the equatorial region. The dry season lasts from four to seven months (usually April to October), depending largely on distance from the Equator. In Kananga about 63 inches (1,600 mm) of precipitation falls annually. Short dry spells of several weeks’ duration may occur during the rainy season.

The Atlantic climate zone is confined to the west coast. The low elevation and the cold Benguela Current are the major influences. At Banana the average annual temperature is in the high 70s F (mid-20s C), and precipitation averages about 30 inches (760 mm) yearly. The mountain climate occurs in the eastern high plateaus and mountains. In Bukavu, for example, the average annual temperature is in the mid-60s F (high 10s C), and annual precipitation levels measure about 52 inches (1,320 mm).

RAINBOW FOREST RECOVERY - LES

The rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are one of the world's most important ecosystems. But international logging firms illegally cut down the local trees. The locals begin to resist, and even with some success.

The earth suddenly begins to vibrate. The buzz is getting louder. Then, in the darkness, five trucks appear, roaring over the red dirt road. They carefully maneuver around the sharp bends in the road through the village.


Their trailers are loaded with large tree trunks stacked on top of each other. The trees were cut down in the rainforests of the Congo Basin, one of the largest forest areas on the planet.

Huge tree trunks are transported by trucks to the port in Ingend.
Photo: Arsène Mpiana Monkwe / DER SPIEGEL

Trucks transport valuable cargo to the dock at Ingend, a remote location more than eight hours by car from the nearest major city. From Ingende, barrels first travel along the Ruki and Congo rivers until they eventually reach Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From there they continue on to the Atlantic Ocean to travel to Asia and Europe. Valuable tropical timber is transported all over the world.

Regular delivery route for logs to be shipped from the port of Matadi.

If a white person walks along Ingenda, the locals constantly shout "Chinua" or "Chinese". Everyone is accustomed to the presence of people from China since Chinese companies have taken over the logging operations in the area. They are not popular.

"The Chinese don't respect our culture," says the security officer in charge of international visitors. Handcuffs hang from the steering wheel of his motorcycle. “It’s just in case they don’t behave well,” he jokes.


There is only one road through the rainforest, but you rarely see cars on it. The road is mostly occupied by goats and pigs. Most people in the forest settle on the side of the road, which is also used to transport timber.


Logging companies transport timber on ships, but residents use wooden rafts to transport trees, which they use as building material. They tie trunks together and drift along the river for days or weeks.

Life in the rainforest is isolated, and the nearest hospital or market is far away. Locals tend to take care of their own needs.

The resistance of the forest dwellers to the large loggers is growing. Many residents are organizing to fight companies with the support of conservation groups. The territory of several communities has been placed under protection as a community forest.


Nadiana Bekombe, a resident of the village of Inganda, believes that timber companies should never return to her village. She is sure that they will never allow the locals to get their share of prosperity.


Indeed, in a country where raw materials benefit a small elite and are mainly exploited by foreign companies, there is practically no distribution of benefits. Much of the country is covered in rainforest, making timber one of Congo's most important resources. After the Amazon, it is the largest rainforest region on the planet, a "green lung" critical to the global climate. Chinese trucks have been rolling on it since 2018.

Annual forest loss in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in hectares.

The fact is that for the past 20 years, logging companies in the Congo have not been issued new licenses due to international pressure on the country. Exploitation had gone too deep into the rainforest and too much was at stake. But the country is in an economic crisis and desperate for cash, prompting the environment minister recently to announce plans to lift the moratorium. More companies may soon appear in the Congo to exploit its forest resources. But numerous conservation organizations are vehemently opposed.

In the area around Ingende, it is clear that the logging companies operate in a lawless environment. But the inhabitants of the rainforests here are no longer just passively watching - they are wresting control of their forest with the help of modern technology.
Labelle Boquelé and Papi Boncale stand next to a giant stump. They want to show how their little resistance works. They open the plastic case and take out a white disc and a black box. This is a satellite receiver that they connect to their Blackberry smartphone. The system, called ForestLink, is provided and maintained by the Rainforest Trust, a UK-based organization.

Labelle Bokele (left) and Papy Bonkale (right) demonstrate the ForestLink system.
Photo: Arsène Mpiana Monkwe / DER SPIEGEL

A smartphone provides users with accurate GPS data in the midst of a rainforest where few people have mobile phones due to lack of reception.


Bokele and Boncale then take out a tape measure from their little suitcase and check the diameter of the stump. They take photographs - important evidence. As forest watchers, the two are documenting suspicions of misconduct by Chinese companies. Using the app, they enter evidence into their smartphone and sort it into different categories.

They usually do this in logging company concession areas, but reporters from DER SPIEGEL and the German public broadcaster ARD did not have access to these areas during their joint reporting trip. Congolese law, however, allows residents to move freely and collect evidence. More often they go out early in the morning, under the cover of twilight, to avoid clashes with foremen.


“The lack of respect makes me angry,” Bokele says. “We once documented a company cutting down trees that were still very small. In doing so, they deprive our children of their livelihoods.”

At least in theory, timber companies are required to comply with a number of regulations. They are only allowed to cut down certain areas and only large old trees so that the forest can regenerate. They are also prohibited from cutting trees on slopes and near villages, rivers or springs.

But the reality is usually different. Experts believe that most of the wood exported from the Congo was cut illegally. The government conducts only occasional inspections, and high-ranking officials are often involved in dubious transactions. A Chinese company that became active in Ingend in 2018 also made headlines thanks to such deals.

Three years ago, shortly before the presidential elections, the Ministry of the Environment abruptly revoked the licenses of several companies. A few days later, the licenses passed into the possession of the family of a well-known Congolese general, nicknamed "Tango Four". According to Global Witness, family members shortly thereafter sold their entire company, along with its concessions, to the Chinese in a lucrative deal. And in violation of the moratorium on logging, according to many non-governmental organizations. But their outrage was unfounded. To this day, most of the timber industry is in the hands of the Chinese, including in the Ingende region, even if the company names have changed several times on paper. The government recently announced plans to evaluate all disputed timber concessions in the Congo. But many residents remain skeptical — and instead are fighting on their own.

Two years ago they struck a spectacular blow. Joseph Bolongo clearly remembers that day, May 28, 2019, Thursday. Bolongo works for Gashé, an NGO that trains and supervises forest watchers.

That week his phone was ringing with angry calls from the villagers of Loselinga. “They said the Chinese suddenly came and started cutting down trees. They wanted us to come quickly,” recalls Bolongo. He immediately reacted.

Bolongo has warned several authorities, including the provincial Ministry of the Environment. A special mission was immediately organized. They boarded a speedboat with uniformed policemen and rushed along the Ruki River. Bolongo recorded this mission on his camera - for him it is a kind of trophy, a ray of hope that things can go differently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Upon arrival, the inspectors found a mobile wood haulage jetty with heavy machinery on and behind it, as well as astonished Chinese foremen. They felt at home in the forest, where they pitched tents and equipped a place for cooking.

Officers located a wharf used for the removal of timber and heavy equipment, which was outside the concession area occupied by a Chinese company. Photo: GASHE

According to Bolongo, the company was operating well outside the permitted concession, in an area where only local residents could harvest small amounts of wood. But bulldozers have already cut clearings in the forest.

After a loud skirmish, the police took the Chinese foreman away in handcuffs. Shortly thereafter, he appeared before a court in the city of Mbandaka. The evidence seemed irrefutable.

But the lawsuit had a different outcome than Bolongo and his allies had hoped. First, the accused was released on bail, then the case was dismissed with reference to the fine, which had allegedly already been paid, and the lack of evidence. Observers suspect the decision was motivated by political pressure. Bolongo and his fellow campaigners are still considering whether to appeal.

However, he describes this lawsuit as a milestone. This was the first time that civil society had succeeded in taking a timber company to court. The case made headlines and there were reports that the company was having difficulty getting its timber to the world market.

The company then changed its name, and as a result of a further transaction, the concession again passed into new hands. But the nationality remained the same, and, presumably, the violation of the rules continued.

Joseph Bolongo teaches the people of the forest about their rights. Photo: Arsène Mpiana Monkwe / DER SPIEGEL.

Forest monitors continue to document these alleged violations week after week. “The Congo lacks government inspectors,” says project manager Bolongo. “That is why the residents themselves take part in the monitoring. They know these areas well. When they find something illegal, they turn it over to state authorities.”

DER SPIEGEL has a list of reports of violations submitted by observers since 2018. Of these, 81 relate to the Chinese concession in the Ingende area, including 12 alleged cases of illegal logging and 31 alleged violations of the proper marking of felled tree trunks. These labels are important because they allow people to check if companies are meeting the agreed upper limit. In total, more than 400 observer reports have been submitted through ForestLink for the Congo.

Labelle Bokele has been visiting the undergrowth regularly for the past two years. “The Chinese company doesn't care about us and our forest, they even cut down trees on our graves,” she says. They cut down the trees where the larvae live. Once I saw how they cut down such a tree and just left it lying. It makes me angry." Larvae are an important source of food for forest dwellers, an indispensable source of protein.

Papi Boncale, her companion on these missions, faced similar situations. “I rejoice when we raise the alarm,” he says. “It may eventually lead to a cessation of violations, at least gradually. This is what we want to achieve."

The fight may not be equal, but residents still sometimes manage to reach a settlement with the logging company, using the evidence they gather as leverage. If violations get out of control, they block the road and thus achieve a solution to the issue.

They hope that at some point, a major legal case may eventually be brought. But in a country like the Congo, where justice is mostly a matter of money, that remains a dim hope. “The authorities are not reacting at all,” says forest watchman Bokele. The case of the arrested Chinese was both a glimmer of hope and disappointment for the residents.

Sometimes activists are even leaders in the fight against deceitful local leaders. This happened to Boncale when, a few months ago, he sent out a warning via his satellite receiver and mobile phone about an abandoned school with large holes in the walls next to the path. The building is actually part of a social plan that the Chinese company must complete. After Boncale's report, the authorities began investigating the matter, and it was eventually revealed that the logging company had paid, but the money had been embezzled by local officials. The village chief suspected of this case ended up in jail.

The struggle of the inhabitants continues. In addition to seeking to break company dominance with apps, they are also trying to reclaim forests with the concept of community forests.

A narrow path leads through meter-long trees and undergrowth until a break suddenly appears in the rainforest. There are about a dozen huts in the clearing, forming the villages of Bofekalasumba and Inganda.


Women carry baskets on their backs, and men with machetes in their hands come out of the forest or disappear into the dense greenery. Many of them belong to the indigenous Pygmy ethnic group, which has intermingled with Bantu immigrants over the centuries.

The cultivation of cassava is of central importance: the locals eat the leaves of the plant, the roots are ground into flour, which is used to make fufu, a dish similar to polenta. Photo: Arsène Mpiana Monkwe / DER SPIEGEL

In recent years, a Chinese company and other firms have registered in their vicinity, and the locals hoped that some of this prosperity would reach them. But the hopes were not justified. “We couldn't stop it even when the companies had to pay only $5 per cubic meter,” says Inganda village head Niko Boketa.


Companies can receive up to EUR 900 per cubic meter of tropical timber in the European market. “And they destroyed our forests with heavy machinery, including small trees,” Boqueta says.


But that is now a thing of the past, at least in Inganda and Bofecalasumba, where the locals persuaded the Congolese authorities to protect their forest. No business can register here anymore. Only local residents can cut trees on their own and use their forest to earn money, albeit only in small quantities.

The people of Inganda celebrate the official recognition of their community forest. Photo: Arsène Mpiana Monkwe / DER SPIEGEL

Joseph Bolongo and his organization Gache monitor residents' compliance. “People depend on the forest here,” he says. “This is their life. If they damage the forest, they themselves feel the consequences. It is in their interest to manage it frugally."


The idea of ​​a community forest is a kind of alternative to the fenced sanctuary often practiced elsewhere in Africa. In many protected areas, the inhabitants were, in fact, expelled and deprived of their livelihoods. On the other hand, public forests are designed to prevent industrial exploitation by foreign companies and to turn the inhabitants themselves into conservationists.


Cases in Bofekalasumba and Inganda follow the established pattern: slash-and-burn clearing of small forest areas to grow maize and cassava, the region's staple food. Cutting wood for firewood. People lead their lives here according to centuries-old rules. Some areas are reserved for agriculture, while others remain untouched.

The idea of ​​a community forest is relatively new in the Congo. There are only a few dozen of them, and most of them are still in their infancy. Critics fear that residents themselves will lose sight of conservation and start overexploiting the forest.

However, villager Nadiana Bekombe disagrees. “The forest allows us to grow food, fish and hunt game,” she says. “That's why we're protecting him. We will not allow any more adventures. In any case, no company will come to our land. They only come and deceive us!”

But the danger remains: in another communal forest, almost 100 kilometers south of Bofekalasumba, workers recently arrived with machinery. Employees of an international logging company. Observers say they have begun building forest roads and marking trees, presumably with the intention of illegally cutting down forests there.
As usual, the residents fought back the best they could: they collected GPS data and called the authorities. Here in the green lungs of Africa, people are fed up with it.

Congo Rainforest

The Congo Rainforest is located in central Africa in the Congo Basin. It covers approximately 1.5 million square miles. It is the second largest rainforest in the world (only the Amazon is larger). Most of the Congo rainforest is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); however, there are also significant areas in Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.

The equatorial climate prevailing in much of the Congo Basin coexists with dense evergreen forest. The Congo forest extends over the central depression, interrupted only by clearings, many of which are of natural origin. The forest area is bordered on both sides by savannah belts (grassy park). Forest and savannah often meet inconspicuously, merging into a mosaic pattern; even more rarely strips of forest encroach on pastures. Farther from the equator, the wooded savanna with its rare deciduous forest gradually extends.

18% of the world's tropical forests are located here. The Congo Rainforest was called the "heart of darkness" by Joseph Conrad to highlight its dangerous and remote nature.

Congo rainforest life

About 60 million people in Central Africa are closely connected to the rainforest and some of them depend on it for food, shelter and medicine. Like other rainforests, the Congo rainforest is a biodiversity hotspot that is home to forest elephants, hippopotamuses, three species of great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos), civets, bongos (antelope), duikers, Liechtenstein's harlequin, great kudu (large antelope), beautiful francolin (elusive bird), marsh mongoose, lions, giraffes, giant wood pig, golden jackal and many other animals found nowhere else, including okapi, white rhino and Congo peacock.

The natural wonders here are so rich that five national parks in the Congo rainforest are listed as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations. In total, there are over 11,000 plant species, 450 mammals, 1,150 birds, 300 reptiles, and 200 amphibians in the rainforest.

Flora

The rainforests of the Congo are home to over 11,000 different plant species. Over a thousand of these species are unique to the Congo rainforest. The vegetation of the forest is so dense that many parts of it have never been seen by people. In the densest parts of the rainforest, only 1% of sunlight reaches the ground.

Congo River

The Congo Rainforest is crossed by the Congo River, the second longest river in Africa after the Nile, with a total length of 4,700 km. In terms of runoff, it is the second largest of all the rivers in the world, after the Amazon. The river is in an inverted U-shape, curving north of the ocean and then curving south at its midpoint. Between 1971 and 1997, the river was called Zaire. Livingston Falls, located near the mouth of the river, prevents access to the sea. Although technically they are rapids and not a waterfall, if you take the rapids for a waterfall, Livingston Falls are the largest waterfalls in the world. The falls are named after famous British explorer David Livingstone, although he never visited them.

The Congo Rainforest is a dangerous place

The Congo Rainforest is also known as one of the most dangerous places in the world. Like many African countries, most countries in the Congo Basin are politically unstable, with the eastern part of the Congo experiencing the highest levels of sexual abuse in the world. War is almost constant, and respect for women is almost non-existent. Like the Amazon rainforest, Congo's timber companies also clear forests. America and European countries have committed billions of dollars to the conservation of the rainforest, but the impact of such efforts is questionable. If circumstances do not change, most of the rainforest could be destroyed within a century or less.

Interesting facts about the Congo rainforest

The most famous people of the Congo rainforest are the Pygmies. The average height of the pygmies is only 1.45 meters. The average height of female pygmies is only 1.33 meters.

Commercial logging and agricultural expansion have made the Congo rainforest one of the world's most vulnerable ecosystems.

The Congo River, which is the second largest river in the world, flows through the rainforest.

Congo is very rainy. The average rainfall is just over 147 centimeters per year.

The climate of the Congo is warm and humid with an average temperature of 25 C.

The rainforest of the Congo is the only place in the world where all three subspecies of gorillas can be found. These are the mountain gorilla, the lowland gorilla, and the eastern lowland gorilla.

Bonobos are found only in the rainforests of the Congo and are the closest relatives of humans.

Okapi is an animal that looks like a cross between a giraffe and a horse. In fact, it is often called the forest giraffe. He has a brown color and white striped legs. Okapi is found only in the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Black colobus can be found in the high canopies of the Congo rainforest. They are well known for their amazing jumping skills. These primates are one of the most endangered monkey species in Africa.


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