Northern Congo Rainforest Spared by German Loggers

NEW YORK, New York, July 9, 2001 (ENS) - One of the last pristine rainforests in Africa will not be logged by a German timber company. Known as the Goualogo Triangle, the 100 square mile forest in the Republic of Congo contains some of the highest densities of gorillas, chimpanzees and forest elephants in central Africa.

During a news conference at the Bronx Zoo Friday, Henri Djombo, minister of forests of the Republic of Congo announced the protection of what scientists are calling Africa's last Eden.

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Chimpanzees in the Goualogo Triangle (Photo by Dave Morgan courtesy WCS)
With a troop of lowland gorillas watching from the Bronx Zoo's Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit, Djombo was joined by officials from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the zoo's parent organization, and Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), a private timber company.

After learning of the Goualogo's biological richness, CIB gave up its legal rights to harvest the forest, which were leased from the government. The government of Congo will add the Goualogo Triangle to the already existing Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, which the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) helped create in 1993.

The agreement marks the first time a timber company working in Africa has voluntarily turned over virgin forest in the name of conservation. The Goualogo Triangle contains vast tracts of mahoganies and other valuable hardwoods.

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Dr. Steven Sanderson is president of the Wildlife Conservation Society. (Photo courtesy WCS)
Wildlife Conservation Society president, Dr. Steven Sanderson, hailed the Republic of Congo's government for its vision, and CIB for its courage.

CIB president Dr. Hinrich Stoll said, "Timber industry companies, mine included, are not in the habit of walking away from timber rich forests. But the Goualogo Triangle is a very special place. Wildlife and forestry surveys by WCS and CIB convinced us to preserve this forest, and both organizations worked hand-in-hand to protect it."

Surrounded by swamp forests and two rivers, Goualogo's geographic isolation has kept humans out. WCS surveys have documented that some of its wildlife, particularly chimpanzees, show little evidence of ever encountering humans before.

Chimpanzees are heavily hunted in Africa, and most respond with fear when encountering people. The apparent absence of fear in Goualogo is a curiosity, leading scientists to believe the area has suffered no human intrusion.

Dr. John Robinson, a WCS senior vice president called the agreement, "An unprecedented victory for conservation in tropical Africa. CIB and the government of Congo have shown extraordinary leadership in setting aside this wildlife area of global significance."

"The Republic of Congo depends on forest resource use for economic development, but it is also deeply committed to biodiversity conservation and sustainable forest management," Dr. Robinson said.

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Infant chimpanzee in the Goualogo Triangle (Photo by Dave Morgan courtesy WCS)
Djombo said that protecting the Goualogo Triangle, an area rich in biodiversity but originally part of the Kabo Forest Management Unit, a logging concession allocated to CIB, reaffirms this commitment.

The Republic of Congo has already set aside about 11 percent of the country's surface area as protected areas, 90 percent of which is tropical forest. In January, country expanded Odzala National Park to 1.3 million hectares, more than four times its original size, protecting forests previously set aside for timber exploitation. The action will secure the habitat of the world's highest concentration of western lowland gorillas.

"The park will be a pioneer in conservation in central Africa and one of the main tourism resources in our country," Djombo said at the time.

The Bronx Zoo's Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit played a role in the establishment of the new park addition. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo first discussed the possibility of protecting the Goualogo at the Bronx Zoo during his September 2000 visit.

Following that visit, Congo held further deliberations with CIB concerning the joint CIB/WCS biological surveys, and the economic ramifications of protecting Goualogo. WCS's recommendations were accepted, resulting in the decision to protect the region.

But CIB has not always been as conservation conscious. According to environmentalists such as Korinna Horta of Environmental Defense who visited the Congo in 1996, CIB logged an enormous tract in the northern Congo just outside the Ndoki National Park in a manner the company wanted to keep her from seeing.

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Korinna Horta is an environmental economist with Environmental Defense. (Photo courtesy Environmental Defense)
"While my entry visa into the Congo was good for the whole country," Horta told the "Christian Science Monitor" at the time, "the company had such clout that a simple fax sent from its headquarters to the travel agent in charge of my transportation led to the cancellation of my visit."

An official she identified as "foreign" told her, "Had you gone to that area, you would have seen the carcasses of dead gorillas and other endangered wildlife dangling down from the logs being transported on company trucks, and that would have been bad public relations for the company."

The northern forests of the Republic of Congo are one of the last remote areas of central Africa. Pressures to develop the country through timber harvesting and processing have increased over the past ten years at the same time as a bloody civil war has displaced more than 200,000.

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Chimpanzee in the Goualogo Triangle. (Photo by Dave Morgan courtesy WCS)
Still, the Goualogo Triangle has remained unspoiled. Dave Morgan, a WCS researcher spent 80 days on a pilot study of the Goualogo Triangle chimpanzees in 1999. "Walking the network of elephant trails enables us to travel quietly and efficiently while searching for chimpanzees," he wrote. During that pilot study, the WCS team identified 103 chimpanzees.

To draw attention to the perilous situation of the greater Congo Basin rain forest ecosystem, WCS opened the Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit at the Bronx Zoo in 1999, and says it has educated millions of visitors. With more than 300 animals, including one of the largest breeding groups of lowland gorillas, it is the most spectacular exhibit ever created at the Bronx Zoo.

The exhibit has also raised more than $2.5 million from its admission fee, which is spent on the Wildlife Conservation Society's field programs in central Africa.

Wildlife Conservation Society website on the creation of the Congo's Nouabale-Ndoki National Park is online at: http://www.wcs-congo.org/natpk.htm