Conserving the Congo Basin’s forests

Posted on April, 11 2011

This tropical rainforest supports millions of people and is home to spectacular wildlife – but we’re not talking about the Amazon...
This tropical rainforest supports millions of people and is home to spectacular wildlife – but we’re not talking about the Amazon...

Africa has a green heart – a pulsing expanse of rivers and forests, rich in culture, wildlife and natural resources, with a vibrant population. The Congo Basin is the world’s second largest tropical rainforest, covering 2 million sq km – that’s an area roughly the size of Europe.  

What’s at stake?

From rare butterflies to elephants and great apes, the Congo Basin’s forests support an amazing array of wildlife, provide food, water and shelter for 75 million people and store a huge amount of carbon.

Their destruction is unthinkable. Species – including our closest relatives the great apes – could become extinct. People already labouring under extreme poverty would not have the resources to survive. Climate change would accelerate, leading to similar destruction all over the world.

The story so far

A decade ago the unthinkable looked like it could become a reality.

Illegal and unsustainable logging, compounded by weak forest management, resulted in the destruction of more than 90,000 sq km of forests in central Africa between 1990 and 2000. Wildlife poaching was also rife, threatening species such as elephants, rhinos and gorillas.

By the turn of the millennium, the situation was critical. Something had to be done.

In 1999, we organized the Yaoundé Summit, a high level summit of heads of state from six Congo Basin countries. This led to the Yaoundé Declaration, where countries promised to cooperate to conserve the forests of the Congo Basin – the Green Heart of Africa.

In the last 10 years, they’ve done an amazing job. More than 10% of the forest is now covered by two massive conservation areas. Another 45,000 sq km is being managed sustainably, with Forest Stewardship Council certification. And at a second summit in 2005, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) committed to protecting another 150,000 sq km.

Did you know?

If the Congo basin’s forests disappeared, several species could become extinct. They include the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee, and the okapi, a rare horse-like creature with a brown body and brown-and-white-striped legs.

Facts and stats

  • 10% – amount of Congo Basin forests we’ve helped protect
  • 75 million – number of people who depend on the Congo Basin for food and shelter
  • 400 – mammal species found in the Congo Basin

What next?

We’re working tirelessly to make sure the green heart of Africa continues to beat and remain green – benefiting not only its own people and species, but the whole world.

Further forest summits are planned to reinforce and build on the regional conservation commitment. We hope to:
  • expand the area of protected and certified forest
  • improve protection for flagship species such as great apes and elephants
  • put in place policies to make sure new infrastructure, such as roads and dams, is sustainable.

What you can do

Join the myWWF Action Center
Be part of a global community of activists ready to take simple online actions that can help save wildlife and people. Sign up today!


WWF UK and WWF Germany are working with WWF CARPO on a 2 year EU-funded campaign (2010-2011) to raise awareness among EU consumers of the links between their consumption of timber products and the effects on communities and forests in the Congo Basin region.
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UK
African forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic.
© Martin Harvey / WWF
Logging vehicle clearing logs in deforested landsape, East province, Cameroon.
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UK