Swamps and flooded forests of the Green Heart of Africa

A muddy home for big mammals

 / ©: Elie Hakizumwami
Swamp. Likouala, Epena, Republic of the Congo.
© Elie Hakizumwami

Swamps and inundated forests are found extensively in the Congo River Basin.1 Although these forests are not exceptionally rich in numbers of species, they support intact populations of several large mammals.

The only flooded forest ecosystem in Africa is located in the Congo River Basin, which is extraordinary on a global scale because it contains some of the largest areas of true swamp forest on the planet.

Here, lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) feed amongst chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), golden-bellied mangabeys (Cercocebus galeritus chrysogaster), and Allen’s swamp monkeys (Allenopithecus nigroviridis). Today this ecosystem remains largely intact.

A swamp well worth protecting

The swamps of the Congo River cover extensive areas of the centre of the Congo River Basin.

A considerable number of endemics - plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world - live in this mosaic of wetlands and riparian (river bank) vegetation areas. But while swamps may have many endemic species, there are relatively fewer compared to rainforests.

Inside the swamp

Swamp forests appear similar to rainforests and the tallest trees can reach 45m. The canopy is sometimes irregular, with frequent openings, sometimes resembling secondary forests that have grown after disturbance. 2

Dense undergrowth, abundant waterholes and a particularly muddy floor make it almost impossible for most mammals to cross this kind of forest – including the two-legged kind.

How the swamp forests work

The swamp forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Congo-Brazzaville, along with other lowland forests, function according to the rhythms of changing seasons and the corresponding level of forest inundation.3

Swamp forests are known for hosting large numbers of lowland gorillas. When the forests get flooded, animals relocate to the top of the trees or move to higher ground. As a result, many species here are arboreal (tree dwellers).

Well-preserved habitat, but threatened inhabitants

Although some logging has been carried out in the swamp forests, the habitat is fairly intact and the forest appears to be regenerating well where it had previously been cut down.

However, poaching is decimating the forest elephant and bonobo populations. Little is known about the biodiversity of this region, and we may be losing species that have yet to be discovered.

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1 Saatchi S, Wong A. 1997. Land Cover and Land Use Change in Tropical Rainforest of Africa. Proposal.
2 Saatchi S, Wong A. 1997. Land Cover and Land Use Change in Tropical Rainforest of Africa. Proposal.
3 Saatchi S, Wong A. 1997. Land Cover and Land Use Change in Tropical Rainforest of Africa. Proposal.

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