The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most important countries in Africa for biodiversity conservation. It has the highest number of species for almost all groups of organisms with the exception of plants, in which it is second only to South Africa.
The DRC also harbours a number of spectacular endemic species like the okapi, Grauer’s gorilla, bonobo and Congo peacock. It possesses over 50% of Africa’s tropical forests. Dense forests and woodlands cover more than half of the DRC’s total land area of 2.3 million km² and play a critically important role in maintaining global climatic cycles.
It is extremely rich in natural resources. The DRC contains large reserves of coltan (which is used in a wide range of electronic devices), copper, gold and many other valuable minerals. It is also one of the world’s largest producers of industrial diamonds.
Yet the DRC is one of the least developed countries in the world. Approximately 63% of the population lives under the poverty line, with systemic corruption and bubbling conflict hindering economic development, and is ranked 176th out of 188 on the Human Development Index.
This widespread poverty, recurring conflict and economic dependence on mineral extraction is putting unprecedented pressure on the country’s spectacular biodiversity, with poaching, pollution, deforestation and soil erosion all threatening wildlife and habitats.
A recent report by Fauna & Flora International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other partners found, for example, that Grauer’s gorillas have experienced a shocking 77% decline in numbers over the last two decades as a result of illegal hunting, civil unrest and habitat loss from mining.