Congo Rainforest and Basin: The Lungs of Africa

The Congo Rainforest is a vast expanse of lush vegetation covering almost 2 million square kilometers of Central Africa. It is the second-largest rainforest in the world, after the Amazon Rainforest, and is home to an incredible diversity of plant and animal species. This rainforest plays a crucial role in regulating the global climate by absorbing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It also plays a vital role in the water cycle, providing a source of freshwater for millions of people living in the region.

The Congo Rainforest is also an essential resource for the local communities that live in and around the forest, providing them with food, shelter, medicine, and other important resources. Housing thousands of plant and animal species, most of which are considered endangered or near threatened according to the IUCN.


The Congo Rainforest, also known as the Congo Basin, is the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon. The forest is located in Central Africa and spans across six countries, including Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. The Congo Rainforest covers an area of approximately 1.8 million square kilometers, making it the world’s second-largest rainforest after the Amazon.

  • Rivers and Streams of the Congo Rainforest.

The Congo Rainforest is home to many rivers and streams that play an essential role in the ecosystem. The Congo River is the second-longest river in Africa and is the primary water source for many communities in the region. The river is also home to over 700 species of fish, making it one of the most biodiverse rivers in the world.

Ubangi River is located in the Congo rainforest.
Ubangi River located in the Congo rainforest, DRC.

Other major rivers in the Congo Rainforest include the Ubangi River, which flows through the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Sangha River, which flows through Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and the Republic of the Congo. In addition to these major rivers, the Congo Rainforest is also home to many smaller streams and tributaries that provide vital habitat for many species of plants and animals.

  • Landscapes and Scenery of the Congo Rainforest.

The Congo Rainforest is known for its incredible landscapes and scenery, including dense forests, vast grasslands, and majestic waterfalls. The forest is home to many towering trees that reach heights of up to 70 meters and provide a vital habitat for many species of animals. One of the most iconic landscapes in the Congo Rainforest is the canopy layer, which consists of a dense layer of leaves and branches that create a lush, green canopy high above the forest floor.

congo rainforest
Ariel view of the Congo basin and rainforest with its lush greenery and canopies on display!

The canopy layer is home to many species of birds, monkeys, and other arboreal animals. The Congo Rainforest is also home to many stunning waterfalls, including the Zongo Falls in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Loufoulakari Falls in Gabon. These waterfalls are not only breathtakingly beautiful but also play an essential role in the ecosystem by providing habitats for many species of aquatic animals.


The Congo Rainforest is known for its incredible biodiversity, with a vast array of plant and animal species found within its borders.

  • Flora.

The rainforest is home to over 10,000 species of plants, including many that are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. These include a wide variety of trees, such as the towering African mahogany, the dense and valuable iroko, and the durable ekki. Other notable plant species include the African oil palm, the wild coffee plant, and the iconic Raffia palm, which is used by local communities for everything from roofing to basket weaving.

The wild coffee plant found in the Congo Basin is popular among the locals for its medicinal properties and applications.
  • Fauna.

The Congo Rainforest is home to an impressive array of animal species, including over 400 species of mammals, 1,000 species of birds, and more than 300 species of reptiles and amphibians. Some of the most iconic and well-known animals found in the rainforest include the gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo, okapi, forest elephant, and leopard. Other fascinating species include the African grey parrot, the colorful mandrill, and the elusive giant pangolin.

  • Endangered Species.

Sadly, many of the species that call the Congo Rainforest home are endangered due to habitat loss, poaching, and other human activities. The Grauer’s gorilla, whose population has decreased by 77% in the last 20 years, and the okapi, whose habitat is being threatened by hunting, are two of the most seriously endangered animals. Other endangered species include the chimpanzee, the forest elephant, and the Congo peafowl.

The Okapi is considered an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

It is important to note that the biodiversity of the Congo Rainforest is still not fully understood, and there are likely many species that have yet to be discovered or fully documented. Protecting this incredible ecosystem is crucial to preserving the many unique and important species that call it home.

Threats to the Congo Rainforest.

The Congo Rainforest faces a number of significant threats that are putting this important ecosystem and its biodiversity at risk. Some of the most pressing threats include:

  • Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

The Congo Rainforest is being rapidly deforested and degraded due to human activities such as logging, agriculture, and infrastructure development. Between 1990 and 2015, the rate of deforestation in the DRC remained relatively constant at around 0.2%, equivalent to losing 311,000 hectares (1,200 square miles) annually. However, this rate has significantly increased in recent years. Recent estimates suggest an annual deforestation rate exceeding 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) during the past five years, with some reports indicating even higher numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

deforestation in the Congo rainforest
© Global Witness

In 2019 alone, the DRC lost 475,000 hectares (1.17 million acres) of primary forest, ranking second only to Brazil for total primary forest deforestation that year. Between 2015 and 2019, the DRC lost a staggering 6.37 million hectares (15.7 million acres) of tree cover.These activities are destroying the forest habitat of many plant and animal species, leading to significant biodiversity loss. Deforestation also contributes to climate change, as trees store large amounts of carbon dioxide, and their removal releases this stored carbon into the atmosphere.

  • Mining and Extractive Industries.

The Congo Rainforest is rich in minerals, including gold, diamonds, and coltan. The mining and extractive industries are a significant threat to the rainforest, as they can cause widespread environmental damage, including deforestation, pollution of water sources, and displacement of local communities. The demand for these minerals is driving deforestation and degradation in many areas of the rainforest

  • Climate Change and Its Impact on the Congo Rainforest.

Climate change is having a significant impact on the Congo Rainforest, with rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns altering the ecosystem. This can lead to increased wildfires, decreased plant productivity, and changes in the distribution and behavior of animal species. Climate change is also contributing to the spread of diseases and invasive species, which can further threaten the biodiversity of the rainforest.

The threats facing the Congo Rainforest are complex and interconnected. Addressing these threats will require a multi-faceted approach that addresses the drivers of deforestation, promotes sustainable land use practices, and invests in conservation and restoration efforts. Protecting the Congo Rainforest is not only critical for preserving the incredible biodiversity found within its borders but also for mitigating the impacts of climate change and supporting the livelihoods of local communities.


In conclusion, the Congo Rainforest is an ecological treasure that is home to diverse species of flora and fauna and plays a crucial role in regulating the earth’s climate. Despite its ecological importance, the rainforest is under threat from deforestation, poaching, mining, and other human activities. Therefore, it is imperative to protect and preserve this vital ecosystem to safeguard the planet’s biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change. Efforts towards conservation can involve sustainable management practices, raising awareness about the rainforest’s importance, and implementing policies that promote responsible land use. By working together to protect the Congo Rainforest, we can ensure that future generations will continue to benefit from the rich natural resources, cultural heritage, and ecological services that this remarkable ecosystem provides. The preservation of the Congo Rainforest is not just a moral obligation but a critical component of our collective survival as a species.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What are the biggest threats to the Congo Rainforest?

The biggest threats to the Congo Rainforest are deforestation and forest degradation, mining and extractive industries, and climate change

How can we help protect the Congo Rainforest?

We can help protect the Congo Rainforest by supporting sustainable tourism practices, using sustainable products, reducing our carbon footprint, and supporting organizations working to conserve the rainforest, such as the WWF and other transparent and accountable organizations.

What makes the Congo rainforest special?

The Congo Basin, often referred to as the “lungs of Africa,” spans six African countries and is home to a rainforest that is vital to local and indigenous populations, provides food security, and is home to a number of endangered species. It is also one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, absorbing more carbon than the Amazon.

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