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The African continent is brimming with life; home to a diverse range of landscapes including deserts, savannahs and rainforests. At its heart lies a jungle so vibrant, that it's as if all of the continent's life force is being drawn to a single place.
The swamps and rainforests of the Congo Basin are teeming with life. Indigenous tribes depend on it for sustenance and, like the aboriginals of Australia, have preserved a culture dating back tens of thousands of years.
Here are some facts about the Congo Jungle.
Estimated to be four times the size of Germany, the Congo Jungle is the world's second-largest rainforest after the Amazon.
It's home to an estimated 10,000 animal species, 600 tree species, and 10,000 tropical plants (30% of which are endemic to the region).
Like the Amazon, its lifeblood is a river that flows throughout the continent, touching nine countries on the way. The Congo River is the world's deepest river (220 meters in depth), and the second largest by volume.
The forest may skirt many countries but the three with the largest share are Gabon (87%), Equatorial Guinea (78%), and Congo (61%).
Great Apes of the Congo
The rainforest is home to humanity's two closest relatives; chimpanzees and bonobos. Both share 98.7% of our DNA, yet they have built two completely different societies.
The chimpanzees are patriarchal while the bonobos are matriarchial. Chimps have an inclination to violence, while bonobos are mostly peaceful creatures that use sex to resolve conflicts.
Why are the two species so different despite having similar genetics? Researchers have suggested that their environments significantly influenced their development. Chimps dwell north of the Congo River, while bonobos arose south of the river, where food is more plentiful.
This has interesting ramifications when it comes to the genetics vs environment debate.
Other Animal Life
Animal inhabitants of the Congo Jungle include:
- Forest elephants (smaller than the savannah elephant; they wander in groups of about 20. They are called the "gardeners of the rainforest" because they feed on the tree leaves and thus help disperse seeds).
- Gorillas (mountain, lowland and cross-river varieties).
- Wild boars.
- Okapi (a type of giraffe with a shorter neck).
People of the Congo
Human presence in the Congo Basin dates back at least 50,000 years, and the forest remains a source of food, water and shelter to over 75 million people.
Among its most famous residents are the Ba'Aka people. They are believed to be the oldest inhabitants of the region, with a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle that has remained unchanged for millennia.
Music features prominently in their daily life, which is replete with rituals and rites accompanied by song and dance.
Threats to Indigenous Peoples
Inhabitants of the forest are supreme trackers, which enables them to play a role in conservation and tourism. Unfortunately, their way of life has been continuously disrupted by urban expansion, and illiteracy makes it difficult for them to find employment in these expanding settlements.
The bushmeat trade has affected their hunting lifestyle, forcing some members of the tribes to join sides with the poachers by serving as trackers.
Furthermore, the people of the Congo have long been victims of slavers. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a hive of modern slavery, including forced marriage and child enslavement. It ranks 9 out of 167 countries on the Global Slavery Index (GSI).
Threats to the Congo Jungle
The forest is impacted by factors such as:
- Industrial logging, perpetrated by multinational companies.
- Industrial plantations that harvest resources such as palm oil, rubber and sugar.
- Climate change, resulting in heat and drought, and affecting the forest's ability to absorb carbon.
One of the measures utilized by the government to protect the forest is to grant villagers control of portions of land.
Deforestation in areas controlled by villagers is 23% lower than the national average, and research by the World Resources Institute into 14 forest-rich countries across the world found that carbon storage is significantly improved in regions controlled by indigenous communities.
However, as with most issues impacting the environment, only the coordinated action of world governments will be enough to counter the impact of global corporations.
Butler, Rhett A. 2020, August 1. The Congo Rainforest. Mongabay.
General information. World Wildlife Fund.
General information. Greenpeace.
General information. WorldAtlas.
Yeung, Peter. 2021, January 8. The bold plan to save Africa's largest forest. BBC.
Schulman, Susan. 2016, May 4. Life for the Baka Pygmies of Central African Republic. The Guardian.