African forest of the great apes

Page - November 29, 2006
The central African Forest of the Great Apes is second in size only to the Amazon rainforest and is the most species rich place in Africa. It is home to an astonishing number of animal and plant species.

Africa's gorillas will only survive in wildlife parks and zoos if current forest destruction isn't curbed.

This spectacular lowland rainforest stretches across regions of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

The forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone is home to over 1,000 species of birds and more than 400 species of mammals, many of which are not found anywhere else on Earth. The African Forest of the Great Apes is critical to the survival of three of our closest animal relatives; the gorilla, the chimpanzee and the bonobo. The forest is also home to magnificent forest elephants and other animals such as the okapi and Congo Peacock which are barely known to science. They are all dependent on this ancient African forest.

Also, there are around 12 million forest-dwelling people, including the semi-nomadic Baka pygmies, who depend directly on the forest for shelter, medicine, food and for their cultural and spiritual survival. "If the forest dies, we will die as well because we are the People of the Forest," Mbuti 'Pygmy', Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Forest disappearing - and the Great Apes will go with it

The African Forest of the Great Apes once stretched across Africa from Senegal to Uganda, but no more. Africa has lost 85 percent of its ancient forests since the 1970's, and the future for the creatures and people that depend on them is uncertain.

By 2015 Africa's apes, the gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, will disappear with the last undisturbed forest areas.

Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, tropical Africa has seen almost a 25 percent increase in the rate of forest destruction. On average the region has seen its production of timber increase by more than half since the mid 90s. Of what remains, 40 percent has been allocated to commercial logging operations, and illegal logging is rampant in the region.

"Selective extraction" is what the international timber corporations call their supposedly protective operations where they saw down one or two giant trees per hectare. What they forget to mention is that as much as 70 percent of the remaining forest and vegetation in the logging area also falls victim to roads, sawing machines and bulldozers.

There has been no significant increase in the area of ancient forest designated for conservation during the same period and already protected areas are mostly ignored. Conservation efforts are thwarted because of a lack of political will, money and personnel for enforcement, and because of poverty and corruption.

While the Government of Cameroon, in 2006, invited an independent monitoring body to help control the forestry sector, illegal and destructive logging practices are currently the norm in the region. And at the same time countries such as France, Italy, Germany, the UK and Spain continue to import huge amounts of African timber each year.

copyright 2002 Greenpeace/Global Forest Watch

Potentially intact ancient forest, >50,000 heactares

Other forests

Sources: Forest cover, TREES (EC Joint Research Scentre)

Logging concessions, Cameroon: CETELCAF, MINEF, Central African Republic: Project Demenagement Resource Naturelle, Democratic Republic of Congo: SPIAF< WRI, Equatorial Guinea: GFW and local partners, Gabon: Ministere des Eaux et Fortes, Jnl. Officiel du Gabon, WCMC, WWF, Republic of Congo: WRI, WWF