Republic of Congo
Equatorial forest covers much of the Republic of Congo’s landscape, stretching from the Massif de Chaillu and Mayombe forests in the south to enormous tracts of primary forest in the north. The country’s remote northern forests harbor the highest known gorilla densities, including an estimated 125,000 western lowland gorillas discovered by WCS researchers in 2007. These forests form part of the larger Congo Basin, a region that spans six countries and contains a quarter of the world’s tropical forests.
The Republic of Congo is home to more than 400 mammal species, 1,000 bird species, and nearly 10,000 plant species, of which 3,000 are found nowhere else. Its forests have long been a source of food and shelter for hunter-gatherer societies, who have been hunting duikers, bush pigs, monkeys, and other mammals for generations. Animal products such as skins, horns, feathers, and bones play important roles in cultural and religious ceremonies. However, as human populations grow and their natural resource base continues to shrink due to industrial exploitation, they seek access into formerly remote areas. Increasingly, roads crisscross the forest, and urban societies are putting down new roots there. As a result, many of the region’s large mammals, such as forest elephants, western gorillas, and chimpanzees, have become endangered.
- A recent WCS census revealed unexpectedly large numbers of great apes are alive and well in remote forests in northern Republic of Congo. The news effectively doubled the estimated worldwide population of western lowland gorillas.
- The Republic of Congo’s forests have not always covered their current area, but have naturally expanded and contracted over long periods of time and with ice ages and droughts.
- The Congo Basin constitutes the second largest block of dense humid tropical forest after the Amazon.
- The vast Lac Tele Community Reserve, one of WCS’s areas of focus, and the adjacent Lac Tumba Reserve in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, together form Africa’s largest wetland.
- This wetland is a haven for aquatic birds, dwarf crocodiles, lowland gorillas, and bonobos.
- In Conkouati-Douli National Park and along the coast of Congo, forest habitats for terrestrial giants, such as elephants and great apes, meet marine habitats for ocean giants, such as whales and sea turtles.
More than 60 million people inhabit the Congo Basin, and the area’s abundance of animals and plants constitute an essential source of food and shelter. Other resources, particularly timber, crude oil, and minerals, are also exploited on the commercial level as the region’s national economies develop. Poorly planned harvest and extraction of those resources pose the greatest harm to wildlife and their habitats in the Republic of Congo. In addition to hunting for the bushmeat trade, which threatens many mammal species, the deadly and unpredictable Ebola virus poses a serious threat to the continued survival of the region’s great apes.
WCS is the sole conservation NGO working in the Republic of Congo to protect its elephants, gorillas, sitatunga, and other threatened species. Since the early 1990s, WCS has assisted the Republic of Congo in managing the wildlife and habitat of its protected areas, including Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Conkouati-Douli National Park, and Odzala-Kokua National Park. In addition, WCS has partnered with both government and communities to create and manage the Lac Tele Community Reserve, and with logging companies to protect wildlife in timber concessions that surround national parks.
WCS is collecting crucial information on the behavior and life histories of many elusive forest species, such as gorillas and elephants, through research at forest clearings known as “baïs.” These habitats are important resources for many of Congo’s threatened species. Our conservationists are also investigating the direct and indirect effects of commercial logging on wildlife, and advise the government on planning for sustainable resource use and creating adequate policies to protect the forests. WCS field veterinarians also conduct crucial research on the Ebola virus, and are testing methods of vaccine delivery to wild apes.
As the eyes and ears for conservationists, ecoguards work not only to protect national parks and surrounding lands, but also to help evaluate the success of international conservation efforts.
WCS works with the CIB logging company to reduce the pressures on gorillas, elephants, and other endangered wildlife in four timber concessions and to control the trade in bushmeat. This collaborative project is called PROGEPP: the Project for Ecosystem Management in the Nouabalé-Ndoki Periphery Area.
Throughout Ebola high-risk zones, our researchers assess great ape health and improve Ebola prevention awareness in remote communities.
The Bronx Zoo’s Congo Gorilla Forest features one of the largest groups of western lowland gorillas in North America, and is among the world’s first zoo exhibits to directly give visitors a stake in wildlife conservation in the field.
From the Newsroom
Ghislain “Pepito” Ngondjo was sentenced to 5 years in jail for killing of scores of elephants and illegally selling their ivory, while recruiting new poachers and supplying them with illegal assault rifles.
Following the largest study ever conducted on the forest elephant in Central Africa, conservationists say the species could vanish within the next decade. The study comes as 178 countries gather in Bangkok to discuss wildlife trade issues, including poaching and ivory smuggling.
The thick-coated mountain gorilla only inhabits two places on Earth: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Volcanoes in the African nations of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
No elephants are immune from increased poaching in the Republic of Congo. WCS advocates doubling the number of guards monitoring the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and surrounding areas, one of the few safe havens where elephant numbers have remained stable.
WCS VP for Species Conservation Liz Bennett details efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade and highlights the urgent need for additional security forces to slow and ultimately reverse the decimation of myriad charismatic species.