The Democratic Republic of the Congo has fourteen ecoregions that occur entirely or partly within its borders:  Central African mangroves;  Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests;  Western Congolian forest-savanna mosaic;  Angolan Miombo woodlands;  Southern Congolian forest-savanna mosaic;  Central Congolian lowland forests;  Eastern Congolian swamp forests;  Western Congolian swamp forests;  Northeastern Congolian lowland forests;  Northern Congolian forest-savanna mosaic;  East Sudanian savanna;  Ruwenzori-Virunga montane moorlands;  Albertine Rift montane forests; and,  Central Zambezian Miombo woodlands.
These mangroves flank the coastline of western and central Africa, in suitable low energy marine environments. The largest mangrove stand is found in the Niger Delta, which supports the most extensive area of mangrove in Africa. These mangroves also occur at the mouth of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mangroves of this region have no endemic species but support some endangered species, such as manatees and perhaps pygmy hippopotamuses in the Niger Delta. Mangroves are important as nursery and feeding areas for marine fishes, and they trap large amounts of sediment. The oil industry, clearance for salt pans, and overcutting by an increasing human population pose serious threats to these mangroves, but some are contained within protected areas.
This ecoregion extends from the Sanaga River in west-central Cameroon south through Equatorial Guinea into the coastal and inland areas of Gabon, the Republic of Congo, and the Cabinda Province of Angola, ending in the extreme west Democratic Republic of Congo, just north of the mouth of the Congo River. At its southern extremity, the last 400 kilometers (km) of the ecoregion is a tongue of forest lying inland of the coastal plain and surrounded by the Western Congolian Forest-Savanna Mosaic.
The Atlantic Equatorial Coastal Forests ecoregion has exceptionally high levels of species richness and endemism, contains large blocks of evergreen lowland moist forest, and the central portion has one of the lowest human population densities in Africa. Most of the floral and faunal assemblages are intact, including assemblages of threatened large mammals, such as the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx), and sun-tailed monkey (Cercopithecus solatus). Important centers of endemism are found in this ecoregion, particularly in some of the coastal mountain ranges.
Western Congolian forest-savanna mosaic (AT0723) covers most of western DRC where large dissected plateaus frame the lower Congo River, separated by spectacular canyons that plunge down to depths of 980 ft (300 m). Around the river, and extending further south into Angola, this ecoregion is a mix of dry and moist forests, savanna, and grasslands. A number of primates can be found here, including the endangered Bouvier’s red colobus and the Black mangabey, which lives in the forest canopy along waterways. Other mammals found here include elephants, lions, forest buffaloes, warthogs, and a variety of antelopes such as waterbuck, reedbuck, common duiker, and even the swamp-dwelling sitatunga, the most aquatic of the antelopes. A number of bird species are endemic here, including the [White-headed robin-chat]] and the Orange-breasted bush-shrike, two species threatened by forest clearing. Major urban centers, such as Kinshasa and Brazzaville, hold human populations that still depend on the forest for resources such as bushmeat and wood for construction. The Congo River and local roads provide easy access to the forest. In more rural areas, vegetation is often converted to agriculture. But perhaps the biggest threat of all has been civil wars plaguing Angola, the DRC, and the Republic of Congo which produce massive movements of refugees and devastate the environment.
Covering all of central Angola and extending into the Democratic Republic of Congo, the extensive Angolan miombo woodlands are part of an even larger miombo ecosystem that covers much of eastern and southern Africa. The miombo is characterized by several unique ecological factors, including its propensity to burn, the importance of termites, and the unusual browsing conditions found here. While only poor-quality browsing is available, this ecoregion hosts a rich assortment of large mammals, some bulk feeders like the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), some specialized feeders such as the sable antelope (Hippotragus niger), and some, such as the tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus), that utilize the wetlands scattered throughout this ecoregion. However, large mammal populations and all conservation activities have been severely affected by the decades-long civil war in Angola since 1974.
The ecoregion lies mainly in the Cubango-Zambezi Basin, which is an extensive area of gently undulating hills drained by rivers that flow eastwards into the Zambezi River. It is also drained by the endorheic Kwando-Cubango system and the Kunene River. The northern portion of the ecoregion is part of the Congo Basin, while in the west, it extends onto the Old Plateau which includes the highlands of Huíla, Huambo, and Bié.
A small village in Bandundu, DRC. Photograph by Nick Hobgood. Covering a broad area of southern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Southern Congolian Forest-Savanna Mosaic is a blend of forest, woodland, shrubland and grassland habitats. While the forests here boast only a few endemic species, they have a rich fauna, including a number of different antelope species and high numbers of African elephants. This rich blend of habitats provides key insights into the biogeography of Central Africa, which has experienced large climatic fluctuations over the last 10 million years. While there is only one protected area in this ecoregion, the human population is low. However, the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has had unknown effects on this ecoregion and, until stability returns, no significant conservation work is likely to be accomplished.
The Central Congolian Lowland Forests ecoregion lies in the central part of the Congo Basin, south of the wide arc formed by the Congo River. The network of rivers function as distribution barriers to many species, thereby isolating this lowland basin along its northern, eastern, and western limits. The headwaters of the Lopori, Maringa, Ikelemba, Tshuapa, Lomela, and Lokoro Rivers lie within this ecoregion, while their lower drainage basins are included in the Eastern Congolian Swamp Forests ecoregion. Because of the relatively flat topography of the area, most of these rivers are slow flowing with heavy sediment loads, and numerous alluvial islands.
The Central Congolian Lowland Forests ecoregion is globally recognized for its intact assemblages of rainforest flora and fauna, particularly the bonobo (Pan paniscus). Apart from primates, however, very little biological information exists. The northern, eastern, and western limits of the ecoregion are bound by the Congo River and swamp forest while in the south there is a gradual transition to savanna-forest mosaic. There are few threats at present, with most of the area remaining largely intact. Scientific research is a priority, together with the enhanced management of existing protected areas.
The Eastern Congolian Swamp Forests are found on the left bank (facing downriver) of the Congo River and its tributaries, forming a large arc across the central portion of the Congo Basin. The ecoregion is located wholly within the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Topographically, the area is almost entirely flat and occurs between 350 and 400 meters (m) in elevation. It is a part of the wet tropics, with mean annual rainfall over 2 meters. There is little seasonality, as the area is close to the equator, and the humidity level is high. Human population densities average around 12 persons per km2, and are generally concentrated in villages along the major river systems.
This ecoregion encompasses a number of the Congo River's largest tributaries. The most dramatic change in topography and the largest riparian barrier is the Stanley Falls, located near Kisangani. The most important tributaries and other waterbodies are the following (from west to east): Lake Ntomba, Lake Tumba, the Ruki-Momboyo, and Ruki-Busira-Tshuapa-Lomela systems, the Lulonga-Maringa-Lopori system, and the Lomami system.
The Eastern Congolian swamp forest, combined with the neighboring Western Congolian swamp forest, contain some of the largest areas of swamp forest on the planet. Although not known to be particularly outstanding in either species richness or endemism, these forests are largely intact. Poaching is likely to have reduced populations of forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) along the main rivers, especially close to any navigable waterways. Biologically, this is one of the least known ecoregions in the world, and surveys are urgently needed. Conservation efforts are required to safeguard populations of bonobos (Pan paniscus), and to assist the management of protected areas.
It has been recently estimated that about 124,000 km2 of swamp forests remain in the Congo Basin, with perhaps half in this ecoregion. The Congo River is a highly navigable waterway, making most of the area accessible to poachers. Salonga National Park, Lomako Reserve, and Lomami Lualaba Forest Reserve all fall within this ecoregion, although Salonga N.P. contains the largest area of swamp forest under formal protection. Tumba is another area that has been proposed for protection, as have other priority areas for biodiversity conservation.
Logging and associated poaching are the major threats in this ecoregion due to the ease of access through the Congo River and its tributaries. The Service Permanent d'Inventaire d'Amenagement Forestier has noted that extensive areas along the left bank of the Congo River has been allocated as concessions for logging.
Hunting is a major threat. Larger species are hunted for bushmeat, elephants are hunted for ivory and meat, and bonobos are hunted for meat, fetishes and the pet trade. Anecdotal information suggests that elephants have disappeared from large areas. Elephant hunting in the Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely well organized and professional. Areas close to the Congo River and other major waterways may have also suffered reduction in other wildlife populations, including bonobos.
Satellite view of the central Congo basin, Democratic Republic of the Congo Photograph by National Geographic Society
Western Congolian Swamp Forests ecoregion stretches from eastern Republic of Congo through to the western portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and into the Central African Republic. This ecoregion lies on the western bank of the Congo River, which forms a major biogeographic barrier to the Eastern Congolian Swamp Forests and Central Congolian Lowland Forests. The river in this section can be up to 15 kilometers (km) wide, and becomes braided in a maze of alluvial islands. The Western Congolian Swamp Forests have an irregular shape (reflecting riparian habitats) bounded by the right bank of the Congo River between the confluence of the Lualaba (Upper Congo) and the Lomami Rivers to the confluence of the Lefini and the Congo Rivers.
This ecoregion, combined with the neighboring Eastern Congolian Swamp Forests, contains one of the largest continuous areas of swamp forest in the world. Although relatively few species have been recorded, it remains largely intact and contains large populations of western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). Poaching is thought to have reduced populations of forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) along the navigable waterways. Little research has focused on this region, and further efforts are necessary to better understand these forests and their species composition. There are no protected areas.
Epulu River, Okapi Wildlife Reserve, DRC Photograph by WWF/ Allard Blom
The Northeastern Congolian Lowland Forest is located in the northeastern portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and extends into the Southeastern portion of the Central African Republic (CAR). It occupies a roughly triangular area of land supporting lowland and sub-montane rainforest vegetation. The northern margin fixed by the transition to savanna and woodland habitats, the eastern border is bounded by the Albertine Rift Montane Forests, and the southern and western margins are delimited by the Congo River and its tributaries, primarily the Elila River.
The Northeastern Congolian Lowland Forests contains endemic species and large areas of forest wilderness with intact animal and plant assemblages. Endemic species include the okapi (Okapia johnstoni), aquatic genet (Osbornictis piscivora), and the Congo peacock (Afropavo congensis). The forests also provide critical habitat for endangered species such as eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla graueri). There are some protected areas, but the recent military conflicts in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have made these difficult to manage. Threats come from mining, logging, hunting, and agricultural clearance of forest, often by refugees.
In the DRC, an important part of the Ituri forest is now protected within the Okapi Faunal Reserve (see map below). Other lowland forest areas are protected within the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the Maïko National Park and the Yangambi Reserve. At present the Yangambi reserve is seriously compromised, and of uncertain conservation value. Further reserves which should be assessed to determine their values are the Rubi Tele Domaine de Chasse, the Maika Penege Reserve (near Isiro), and on the ecoregions northern border, the Bili-Uere Domaine de Chasse. The total area under protection is roughly 31,000 km2, representing around 6 percent of the ecoregion. Lowland forest of the Itombwe Massif is currently unprotected, but of high conservation value.
The ecoregion contains part of one of the great rain forest wildernesses in the world. This is particularly true in the central part of the ecoregion where the extensive forests support a low density of forest dwelling Mbuti pygmies, and associated agricultural peoples. Soils and agriculture potential are better in the east and south of the ecoregion, especially in Kivu Province. This land is suitable for cattle ranching and plantation agriculture, including coffee. The wars in Rwanda and Burundi and in eastern Congo have displaced many people into the eastern part of the ecoregion. However, these wars have also led to the depopulation of other areas, allowing for potential regrowth of forest cover in the future.
Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo Photograph by © WWF-Canon/John E. Newby The Northern Congolian Forest Savanna Mosaic ecoregion includes the northernmost savanna woodlands in Africa. Forming the northern border of the Congo watershed, it begins east of the Cameroon highlands and extends east through the Central African Republic, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo and into southwestern South Sudan and a sliver of north-western Uganda. The Ubangi and Uele Rivers demarcate the central and eastern borders with the northeastern Congo rain forest, while the Bar al Ghazall, part of the Upper Nile drainage, delineates the transition to the Saharan flooded grasslands to the east.
Unlike the Zambezian forest-savanna mosaics south and west of the Congo Basin, this narrow transition zone marks an abrupt habitat discontinuity between the extensive Congolian rain forests and Sudanian/Sahelian grasslands. With their characteristically diverse habitat complexes, forest savanna mosaics support a high proportion of ecotonal habitats, which have high species richness and are possible locii of tropical differentiation and speciation. The gallery forests of Garamba National Park in northeastern DRC shelter the last known populations of northern white (square-lipped) rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) and at the western extreme of this ecoregion is the last population of the western black rhino, (Diceros bicornis longipes). However, political and economic instability and population growth throughout Central Africa exert intense pressure on parts of this ecoregion, especially in the eastern portion. The Garamba rhinos had plunged to a record low of 15 individuals in 1984 as a result of intensive poaching. By 1996, their numbers doubled under conservation efforts (WCMC), but continuing regional instability could eliminate this remnant population.
This ecoregion lies south of the Sahel in central and eastern Africa, and is divided into a western block and an eastern block by the Sudd swamps in the Saharan Flooded Grasslands ecoregion. The western block stretches from the Nigeria/Cameroon border through Chad and the Central African Republic to western Sudan. The eastern block is found in eastern Sudan, Eritrea, and the low-lying parts of western Ethiopia, and also extends south through southern Sudan, into northwestern Uganda, and marginally into the Democratic Republic of Congo around Lake Albert.
The East Sudanian Savanna is a hot, dry, wooded savanna composed mainly of Combretum and Terminalia shrub and tree species and tall elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum). The habitat has been adversely affected by agricultural activities, fire, clearance for wood and charcoal, but large blocks of relatively intact habitat remain even outside protected areas. Populations of some of the larger mammal species have been reduced by hunting, but good numbers of others remain. Although numerous protected areas exist, most are under-resourced "paper parks" with little active enforcement on the ground, and some have suffered from decades of political instability and civil unrest. The poor infrastructure and inaccessibility of the region have resulted in little development of tourism and wildlife-related revenue generation schemes, with the notable exception of sport hunting in the Central African Republic. Considerable external support to this ecoregion from multilateral and bilateral aid agencies is likely to be needed for many years to maintain or improve current levels of biodiversity.
Ruwenzori-Virunga montane moorlands
Ruwenzori-Virunga montane moorlands occurs in two mall border areas mostly above 9,800 feet (3,000 m) atop the Ruwenzori and Virunga mountains. Habitat types include lakes at various altitudes, marshy deltas and peat bogs, open montane grasslands, areas of scrub, patches of high elevation forest, glaciers, and even snow fields. It include habitat for the vulnerable mountain gorilla, the Ruwenzori-Virunga Montane Moorlands contain two World Heritage Sites--areas set aside for protection by international treaties.
Virunga National Park, DRC Photograph by © WWF-Canon/Timothy Geer The Albertine Rift is dominated by a series of mountain chains, originating on the Lendu Plateau in northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and running south through the Ruwenzori mountains of Uganda and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (03°N, 30°E), western Rwanda and Burundi, to some isolated massifs on the shores of Lake Tanganyika (to 08 °S).
The Albertine Rift forms the epicenter of Africa’s montane rainforest circle. Both its fauna and flora have links to the west and southwest with Cameroon and Angola, to the northeast with the Kenyan Highlands, and the southeast with the Eastern Arc Mountains, and ultimately via the Malawi Rift with southern Africa. On the western side it abuts the Guinea-Congolian lowland rainforest. Collectively, its central location within Africa, juxtaposition of habitats, and prevalent altitudinal zonation, makes the Albertine Rift globally outstanding for its high species diversity and large numbers of endemics; highlighted by the ecoregion containing the world’s last population of Mountain Gorilla.
The Albertine Rift Mountains ecoregion is an area of exceptional faunal and moderate floral endemism. These mountains also support the Mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei), which is one of the most charismatic flagship species in Africa, and an effective target for much of the current conservation investment in the area. The mountain chain comprising the Albertine Rift straddles the borders of five different nations, and this makes effective ecoregional conservation a challenge in the area. Although there are a number of National Parks and Forest Reserves in the area, the recent wars have made their management difficult over much of the ecoregion. Additional threats include conversion of most forest areas outside reserves into farmland, together with logging, firewood collection, and bushmeat hunting within the remaining forest areas.
The Albertine Rift is one of Africa’s most species rich and endemic-rich regions, despite being one of its most poorly documented.
Some of the highest population pressures in Africa are to be found within the Albertine Rift with many families living on small farms originally cleared from the forest. Consequently, remaining blocks of habitat range from undisturbed to highly disturbed. For Rwanda alone, 1998 logged a minimum of 55% of the original extent of afromontane forest in 1934.
The forests of the Lendu Plateau in the northern reaches of the Albertine Rift have almost completely disappeared.
The farming activities of rural people are destroying and fragmenting habitats of this ecoregion in many areas, and this issue is the largest and most overriding concern for conservation in the area. Coupled to high human population density and destruction of habitat, is hunting and poaching, which is causing major problems in several protected areas and is even more intense outside these areas. Firewood collection is also a serious problem in several areas.
Populations of elephant (Loxodonta africana), as well as many other large mammal species, have been decimated during the regions turbulent political past. This is especially the case in the DRC Virunga national park.
The Central Zambezian Miombo Woodland is one of the largest ecoregions in Africa, ranging from Angola up to the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania. This ecoregion covers the southeastern third of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
All the typical miombo flora are represented here, but this region has a higher degree of floral richness, with far more evergreen trees than elsewhere in the miombo biome. The harsh dry season, long droughts, and poor soils are ameliorated by the numerous wetlands spread throughout the ecoregion, covering up to 30 percent of the region’s total area. As a result, a diverse mix of animals is found here, from sitatunga (swamp-dwelling antelopes), to chimpanzees, in the world-famous Gombe Stream Reserve. The bird life is also exceptionally rich, as is the fauna of some amphibian groups. The ecoregion contains areas of near-wilderness with exceptionally low human populations and extensive protected areas. Other parts of the ecoregion, typically close to lakes and mountains, have higher population densities and the miombo is much more degraded. Bushmeat hunting, dryland agriculture, deforestation especially for charcoal production near larger towns, and mining are increasing threat in this ecoregion.
Ecoregions are areas that:
 share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
 share similar environmental conditions; and,
 interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence.
Scientists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have established a classification system that divides the world in 867 terrestrial ecoregions, 426 freshwater ecoregions and 229 marine ecoregions that reflect the distribution of a broad range of fauna and flora across the entire planet.
National parks and preserves
Source: Protected Planet.
- Salonga National Park
- Sankuru Nature Reserve
- Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe Wetlands
- Réserve de Abumonbazi
- Bomu Wildlife Reserve
- Garamba National Park
- Okapi Faunal Reserve
- Virunga National Park
- Maiko National Park
- Kahuzi-Biéga National Park
- Bailey, Robert G. 2002. Ecoregion-Based Design for Sustainability. Springer-Verlag. New York, New York. 240pp., 100 illus. ISBN 0-387-95430-9
- Bailey, Robert G. 1998. Ecoregions: The Ecosystem Geography of the Oceans and the Continents. Springer-Verlag. New York, New York. 192pp., 107 illus., 10 tables. ISBN 0-387-98305-8
- Bailey, Robert G. 1996. Ecosystem Geography. Springer-Verlag. New York, New York. 216pp., 122 illus., 14 tables. ISBN 0-387-94586-5
- Omernik, James M., 1995. Ecoregions: A spatial framework for environmental management. In: Biological Assessment and Criteria: Tools for Water Resource Planning and Decision Making. Davis, W.S. and T.P. Simon (eds.) Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. Pp. 49-62. ISBN: 0873718941.