From among these, 53 are either threatened or endangered (Earthtrends, 2002). Despite its relatively small geographic size approximately 2 million square kilometers, about a fourth of the size of the US (CIA Factbook, 2007) it has 7 different types of ecosystems. Its border with Cameroon is marked by montane forest. Beyond the montane forest is the lowland forest. About fifty-nine percent of the total land mass is forested but the number is rapidly decreasing. The mighty Congo River boasts of lush river vegetation and diverse aquatic life forms. By the Congo River Basin is the Green Abyss, a dense rainforest region.
This is the second largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon. Bongos or the endemic antelopes, and African buffalos dominate the savannas of Congo. There are also swampy areas in sporadic locations that houses endemic plant and animal species. Surprisingly, Congo has existing ecosystem in the ice caps of the Ruwenzori Mountains (World Conservation Society, 2005). Congo truly has an amazing biodiversity. For all the abundance of life in Congo, all these life forms are invariably interrelated with each other. A change in number of one specie, or worse, an extinction of a specie, will ultimately lead to a disruption of the ecosystem.
The Congo River drains from the watersheds of the dense rainforests of Congo and the other nearby countries. The swamps regulate the flow of water from the watershed to the river. Fallen swamp vegetations that were swept to the river become habitats to the fishes in the river. These fishes are prey to the mammals and amphibians that roam the fringes of the river. During wet season, when the swamps and the river overflow, some of these animals relocate to the forests and come back down again at the end of the season (Shumway, 2003). Thus, the cycle of life in Congo.
This ecosystem is very fragile especially with the intrusions of humans. Some 20 years ago, the first foreign logging company set up camp in Congo. This marked the voracious cutting down of large timber for export. Traditional forest dwellers such as gorillas and chimpanzees to lost their homes and were pushed further back into the dwindling forest (CARPE, 2001). Poverty and overpopulation has increased the demand for food such as fish and brought about changes in traditional fishing. Fisherfolks started to use poisons and explosives in fishing.
The results were destruction in the aquatic vegetation and decrease in number of aquatic life forms. Furthermore, the introduction of non-native fishes for commercial consumption became a threat to the endemic aquatic species (Shumway, 2003). The logging of forest swamps affected the elephants and the Bonobos, a rare specie of Apes, whose primary habitat are the lush swampy forests. Moreover, the logs that naturally fall from the swamps that become habitats to fishes has also decreased in numbers (CARPE, 2001). Poaching is the primary reason for the decrease in the number of elephants, apes, chimpanzee and other mammals.
These animals are being poached for two major reasons. One is that the increase in demand for food also meant increase in demand for arable lands. As the population soars, not enough arable lands are available. Farmers slowly encroach to the natural habitats of these animals. Thus the need to eliminate them or these animals would eventually trample over and destroy their crops. Another reason is the increase in the demand for the meat of the animals for export. Some countries consider the meat of these animals as a delicacy. Selling of bushmeat means large profits for these farmers.
Because of this, most of the traditional farmers become full time poachers (CARPE, 2001). The newest and fastest growing economy in Congo right now is oil extraction. This is also the most destructive. The US owns the biggest oil extraction company in Congo. Large tracts of forestlands are cleared to make way for extraction sites leaving. Abandoned drill sites are not properly handled causing harmful liquids and gases to seep through. Transporting oil also entails risks of oil spills in the forests and waters of Congo (CARPE, 2005).
Another destructive industry in Congo is mining. Gold, diamond and coltan are the greatest source of mining income. Coltan or columbite tantalite is essential in the production of computers and mobile phone. It is abundant in forested lands especially inside wildlife reserves where Okapis, a horse-like creature, and gorillas freely roam (IUCN, 2003). Congo has the worlds biggest gold deposits. Diamonds also abound. Warlords and erratic political parties primarily control mining of the two precious elements. Because of this, there is no ecologically sound mining process.
Most of the time, the methods are crude and would often times result to irreversible destruction of the ecosystem. The major ecological impacts of improper mining are soil erosion, destruction of natural vegetation, loss of animal species, sedimentation and water pollution (Global Witness, 2004). These environmental problems are all interconnected to politics, foreign colonialism and poverty. Congo is formerly a foreign colony. When Congo finally became independent, foreign powers still maintained strong ties with local politicians.
That is why foreign countries still hold much of the resource extraction in the country primarily oil extraction (Thomson, 2003). Moreover, Congo is comprised of many tribes and allegiances with different beliefs and practices. Different tribes control different regions and different resources. This causes conflict among them. Gold and diamond extraction causes major conflict among different allegiances. Gains from the extraction are use to acquire weapons and other arsenals. This show of power is needed to maintain a stronghold over the particular resource.
Diamonds are the principal cause of civil strife in Congo that results to, not only loss of lives, but also the devastation of the land (Thomson, 2003). The protection of the biodiversity in Congo takes a back seat to more pressing problems in the country such as civil wars, illiteracy, health problems, inadequate public services and lack of sustainable livelihood. Most of the move to protect and restore the biodiversity in Congo is done by external international institutions. In 1999, Congo together with its neighboring countries signed the Yaounde Summit in Cameroon.
The agreement, backed by the European Union, USAID and WWF, aims to curb the rapid destruction of the environment in Central Africa (CARPE, 2005). Efforts have been made to cooperate with legitimate logging concessionaires to control poaching. Strong sanctions are institutionalized to concessionaire employees who are caught engaged in poaching. Logging companies are also strongly encouraged to practice responsible forest management (CARPE, 2005). Community-Based Resource Management (CBRM) or the system of equipping the locals to manage their own natural resources is being employed in some areas of the country.
CBRM teaches the community the harness the potential of the resources to provide income without sacrificing the sustainability of the resources (CARPE, 2005). Protected areas were also established. These protected areas are regions wherein hunting and logging are strongly prohibited. Even subsistence logging and hunting is banned. However, indigenous Congolese are primarily hunters and subsistence farmers. To harmonize the needs of the people and the welfare of the environment, spill over hunting is allowed.
This means that as soon as the threatened specie has recovered in numbers, the animals will eventually spread out of the protected areas. Congolese are allowed to hunt in the fringes of the protected areas (CARPE 2005). Despite all these efforts, the battle for the preservation of Congolese diversity is not yet over. Poaching still continues. Improper mining and logging practices still abound (CARPE, 2005). This is because the problem is deep seated both locally and internationally. Take for example the diamond trade, the greatest demand for the diamonds are from the Developed Countries.
This is the same with the bushmeat trade. Oriental countries are the primary importers of exotic meat. The best way to help Congo in its efforts to save its diversity is to stop the international demand of these products. Also, the government needs to come up with a concrete plan to address the situation. However, a strong political will is still required so that these plans could be implemented. The government needs to give priority in uniting the different warring factions that fight over the resources of the country. The biodiversity of the Congo region provides food for 66 million Congolese.
The dense forests serve as a watershed that supplies water even to the Congo River. More importantly, Congo is home to half of remaining elephant population in Africa and also to rare species of gorillas. The consequence of the destruction of the biodiversity in Congo is not limited to that country alone. The effects could be felt globally. There are endemic mammals and plants that scientists are only now beginning to discover the possible medicinal qualities. Being the second largest rainforest, the Congo region serves as one of the biggest air filter responsible for absorbing the CO2 emissions of the world.
It also contributes to the regulation of water and climate temperature. One does not have to be in Congo to contribute to the conservation of the biodiversity. If the demand for ecologically unfriendly product stops, the production stops, too. When buying wooden furniture, look for pieces from concessionaires who practice responsible logging. If you are interested in jewelry, ask the jeweler for proper documentation of the source of the precious gems especially diamonds. Have an independent jewel assessor. Experts could tell from the look of the gem where it was sourced.
Diamonds from the Congo region are almost always blood diamonds. Most of the exotic bushmeats are sold in Asia or in oriental restaurants. Refrain from patronizing establishments that condone poaching. Another simple act that an individual could do is to donate to non-profit organizations working for the conservation in Congo. There are a lot of things ordinary people could do to help. One just has to acknowledge that the situation in Congo is not the problem of the Congolese alone but of all the citizens of the world. Everyone must act now before the effects become irreversible.
CARPE (2001). Central Africa and Forest Governance Counter-Balancing the Powers of Public and Private Sectors. CARPE (2005). Forests of the Congo River Basin: a preliminary assessment. Balmar. : Washington DC. Central Intelligence Agency (2007). The World Factbook 2007: Congo, the Democratic Republic of. Global Witness. 2004. Same Old Story: A background study on natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Human Rights Watch (2003). World Report 2003: Democratic Republic of Congo. IUCN (2001, April). Coltan mining in World Heritage Sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo Updated Summary.
Press Release. Shumway C, et al. (2003). Biodiversity Survey: Systematics, Ecology, and Conservation Along the Congo River. Congo River Environment and Development Project (CREDP). Thomson J. & Kanaan R. (2003). Conflict Timber: Dimensions of the Problem in Asia and Africa. USAID Synthesis Report, Volume 1. Final Report Submitted to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Wildlife Conservation Society (2005, August). Albertine Rift Programme: What is the rift?. World Resources Institute (2002). Earthtrends: Congo.