The Congo River Basin contains the second largest rain forest in the world and is home to tens of thousands of species of plants, insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Rain forests are rich environments that are under constant pressure by humans who consume resources ranging from lumber and plant life to "bushmeat," converting forest to farmland and hydroelectric power. Many large mammal species are found only in the Congo River Basin.
The Congo is the world's second largest river in volume. The surrounding rain forest that it drains is second in size only to the Brazilian rain forest. The environment is under pressure by plans to clear vast areas for oil palm farming to produce biofuels, and plans to build a massive hydroelectric dam that will flood large areas. Rain forests worldwide harbor the majority of species on Earth, with typical biodiversity 10 to 100 times that of other environments.
Of the thousands of species that are endangered by massive projects that would deforest the area, many large animals are endemic (live only in this place) to the Congo. These include:
Congo clawless otter--extremely endangered.
Manatee--occasionally killed by sharks or crocodiles, their only real threat is loss of habitat and hunting by man. They have been seen as far as 1,000 miles inland.
Okapi--a relative of the giraffe, and found nowhere else in the world except zoos.
Eastern lowland gorillas--the world's largest primates, about 300 per year are butchered for "bushmeat."
Bonobos--a type of chimpanzee that is noted for social and personality characteristics that are similar to human's.
Forest elephants--they consume and carry seeds that allow reforestation; their population has decreased 80 percent in the last fifty years.
The countries in this region have to balance economic interests with preservation of their natural resources. Forest lands that are cleared for agriculture, even when replanted with a single rain forest species like the oil palm, do not support the diversity of the natural rain forest. The region is torn by rebellion and war, with soldiers often poaching larger animals for "bushmeat," sport and profit.
Countries that make up the Congo River Basin are Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gabon. Virunga National Park, established in 1925, is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo and shelters the most diverse ecosystem of vertebrates in Africa. Other national parks in the region include the Tri-Nationale de la Sangha, encompassing the Lobeke National Park in Cameroon, the Nouabale-Ndoki in Congo-Brazzaville, and the Dzang-Sangha in the Central African Republic.
Preserving endangered species is a fight to preserve the diversity of the entire rain forest ecosystem. Rain forests provide sources for medicines, species for agricultural cultivation, and they convert much of the carbon dioxide in the air into oxygen.
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