The rainforest of central Africa and Congo basin is a large area of diverse tropical animal and plant life that at one time covered most of the equatorial countries of Africa. Now, though greatly reduced by commercial logging and agriculture, the area is still home to many unique types of flora and fauna, many of which are considered endangered or under threat. In 2000, parts of the largest remaining portion of rainforest was protected as a reserve to try to curb the unprecedented levels of deforestation in the surrounding regions.
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Location in Africa
The central African region contains the second largest area of tropical rainforest on the planet, covering an area of around 540,000 square miles (870,000 square kilometres). Mainly found in the equator region in central and western Africa, the rainforest covers parts of the Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic and sporadically appears in Cameroon, Gabon, Guinea and the island of Madagascar.
The African rainforest is home to many unique animals including the aardvark, bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee), common chimpanzee and gorilla as well as the duiker, bongo and bushbuck antelopes. Animal life is greatly varied in over relatively small areas in the rainforest; a 4-mile patch is capable of sustaining hundreds of species of birds, butterflies and amphibians. Many of these cannot be found anywhere else, making the African rainforest an extremely important conservation environment. The pygmy hippopotamus, which makes its home solely in Sierra Leone and the Côte d'Ivoire's Bandama River, is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which estimates the remaining number at 3,000 individuals.
There are an estimated 8,000 plant species present in the African rainforest, ranking second only to South Africa's Cape Floristic Region in terms of diversity. Only around 10 per cent of plant species in the rainforest have been formally identified, making the area of great scientific interest. Notable African rainforest plants include the oil palm, which is valued commercially for its oil, the African mahogany and the okoumé, which is found only in central Africa and accounts for 90 per cent of the trees logged for timber in the region.
The African rainforest is noted for its unique dryness and seasonality compared to similar Amazonian and South Asian tropical climates. Most of the plant life is thought to exist close to the climatic limits of what is considered to be rainforest vegetation. During its distinctive dry seasons, the canopy of the trees in the Congo basin area has a tendency toward deciduousness if water levels are reduced in a particular tree, while trees closer to ground level remain evergreen. The occasional seasonal loss of leaves makes the African rainforest unique in this respect.
Threats to Animals and Plants
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, only around 20 per cent of Africa's rainforest remains, which is largely due to commercial logging and agriculture. Between 1980 and 2005, Africa had the highest deforestation rate of any forested area worldwide and has lost approximately 80 per cent of its total rainforest coverage. As a result, areas such as Mali and Niger have experienced greater levels of drought and soil erosion. The reduction and in some cases complete removal of forested areas has led to the destruction of many plants and the removal of native animal habitats. The island of Madagascar, which was once dominated by rainforest, has lost much of its prized plants and native animals to deforestation. The largest remaining area of African rainforest located in the Congo basin was protected in 1999 by the formation of the Sangha Tri-National Park, which covers parts of the Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo and Cameroon.
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