Democratic Republic of Congo
With tropical rainforests, glacial mountains and open savannahs, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a secretive wilderness sheltering a number of rare and endemic species including the sex loving bonobo and some spectacular scenery, although political unrest makes it a difficult place to visit.
The exuberance of nature is seen in the forest bais which play host to the great numbers of forest elephant and lowland gorillas which populate the rainforests.
Part of the large and fertile Congo Basin and the second largest tropical rainforest in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to many fantastic species of mammal, birds and plants that are scarce or non-existent elsewhere in Africa.
It is considered to house the most ecologically diverse region on the planet, and is known world-wide for its links to the great apes and other important primates, as well as the classically “deep and dark” African jungles of legend and myth. Beautiful and protective of her secrets, the DRC still guards many mysteries by a mixture of physically challenging access and a discouraging political situation – it is thought that many, many species of flora and fauna are yet to be discovered in her borders.
The third largest country in Africa by area, the DRC has a large amount of neighbouring countries; the Central African Republic, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Angola, the Republic of Congo and Tanzania across the shores of Lake Tanganyika. It has a short 40 kilometre stretch of Southern Atlantic Ocean coast to the west of the country, and the capital, Kinshasha, is on the western banks of the Congo River.
As a result of its position on the equator, the DRC experiences high rainfall and has the highest frequency of thunderstorms on earth! The rainforests are second in size only to the Amazon, as is the Congo River. The forests cover most of the low lying central basin of the river. Plateaus merge into savannah in the south and southwest, mountainous terrain in the west and dense grasslands in the north. Just in case this isn’t enough variety, high glaciated mountains line the extreme eastern region.
With some incredibly rare species, as well as plenty of endemic ones, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the naturalist’s dream. Both species of chimpanzee can be found here, as well as mountain gorillas, okapi and rhino. This is the only place in the world that the bonobo chimpanzee can be seen in the wild (they’re also sometimes called Pygmy Chimpanzees).
The okapi is an animal endemic to this region of Africa, and it looks like a zebra, although it is most closely related to the giraffe. Other animals that are also native to this region include the buffalo, forest elephant, manatee, amongst many others. These can all be found in the forests.
There are a lot of birds in the area and bird enthusiasts will know of the DRC’s great reputation. Birds include the black-collared lovebird, blue-headed dove and handsome francolin. Due to Congo’s problems, many people are put off visiting the country and we perfectly understand this; safety is paramount. A possible alternative to bird safaris in the Congo is Northern Zambia’s Nchila Reserve, where a mouthwatering 30 species of Congo Basin endemic birds can be found. Chimfunshi is also in Zambia, a chimpanzee sanctuary – the primates here have been rescued from poachers in the DRC and are not wild, but it’s worth a mention for the important conservation work they’re doing. Mahale Mountains or Gabon are good alternatives for primate safaris and gorilla tracking.
Conflicts are often based on the enormous mineral reserves exposed by the Rift Valley, and are at least partly responsible for years and years of squabbling over the rights to the wealth. Colonial powers, internal factions and even other African governments have all been involved in exporting its natural resources with little regard to conservation – unfortunately the biggest downside to the amazing country that is the DRC.
The Democratic Republic of Congo can be visited at any time of the year as it enjoys a constant equatorial climate. The average day temperature is 24°C and the night is around 16-21°C. The dry season is between June and August, and the maximum rain falls between March-May and September-November.
Why visit the DRC?
This is the only place in the world to see the rare bonobo chimpanzee. 86% of the worlds remaining eastern lowland gorillas are found in the Kahusi-Biega National Park and a high percentage of the the world’s remaining mountain gorilla are found in three of the national parks, including Virunga National Park on the eastern border with Uganda. Numbers of remaining gorillas cannot be totally confirmed at present although there are some very brave conservationists attempting to protect the remaining few.
There are daily flights from Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines, and thrice weekly flights with South African Airways and Kenyan Airways. Air France and Air Brussels have regular flights. It is possible to get a ferry from Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo and a bus from Uganda.
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