Conservation in the Congo Rainforest

By Rhett A. Butler
LAST UPDATE: August 9, 2020

Conservation efforts in Central Africa have been variously challenged by poor infrastructure, weak law enforcement and governance, corruption, and civil strife. The effectiveness of conservation programs ranges from Gabon (strong) to DRC (weak).

Below is some background on conservation in six Central African rainforest nations.

Protected areas, 2010
Country (1000 ha) (% of land) Number (1000 ha) % land mass
Cameroon 20037 42% 223 8229966 17.31%
Congo 20932 61% 19 3967* 10.00%
CAR 5833 9% 16 6873515 11.03%
DRC 107181 46% 79 25795542 11.00%
Gabon 22416 84% 21 3554477 13.28%
Eq Guinea 2163 77% 13 586000 20.89%


* Republic of Congo's data on file with OFAC (Observatoire des Forêts d'Afrique Centrale)
is not consistent between the area and percentage of protected areas.


Conservation areas in Central Africa: total rainforest cover and percentage of land mass in protected areas under IUCN categories I-VI

Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa, Congo DRC)

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has the greatest extent of tropical rainforests in Africa, covering more than 100 million hectares. The forests in the eastern sector are characterized by high levels biodiversity, which is the result of the region being one of the few forest areas in Africa to have survived the ice age. About 45 percent of DR Congo is covered by primary forest which provides a refuge for several large mammal species driven to extinction in other African countries. Overall, the country is known to have more than 11,000 species of plants, 450 mammals, 1,500 fish, 1,150 birds, 300 reptiles, and 200 amphibians.

While DR Congo's protected areas have faced a number of challenges in recent years, the country has a long history of national parks. DR Congo was the first country in Africa to create a national park when it established Virunga National Park for mountain gorillas in 1925. Already more than 8 percent of DR Congo is protected in reserves, and the government has indicated an intent to expand conservation areas to 10-15 percent of the country. Traditionally, parks in DR Congo have been well-managed compared to protected areas in surrounding countries, but the war that began in the 1990s disrupted conservation efforts. Before the war, parks were largely funded by fees collected from tourists. Today Congo's parks are challenged by corruption, continued incursions by armed militias, weak law enforcement, and lack of funds.

News updates on Republic of Congo

Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)

The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) is second only to the Democratic Republic of Congo in terms of tropical rainforest coverage among African countries. It is also strikingly diverse for its size--home to 597 species of birds, 166 mammals, 58 amphibians, 149 reptiles, and more than 6,000 species of plants.

Nouabalé-Ndoki is one of Congo's best known and most important national parks. Located deep in the Congo Basin rainforest, this part is home to gorillas, chimps, forest elephants, buffalos, and bongos. It, together with Lobèkè National Park in Cameroon and Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in the Central African Republic, forms a giant protected area consisting of primary lowland rainforest. In total, almost 16 percent of Congo's land area is under some form of protection.

In September 2006, the Republic of Congo announced plans to create two new protected areas spanning nearly one million hectares (3,800 square miles): Ougoue-Lekiti National Park, in the western part of the country, and Ntokou-Pikounda, which lies southeast of Odzala Kokoua National Park.

News updates on Republic of Congo


Gabon is home to some of Africa's most biodiverse rainforests. With around 80 percent of the country forested, Gabon (pictures of Gabon) has an estimated 8,000-10,000 species of plants (20 percent of which are endemic), over 670 species of birds, and nearly 200 mammals including lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, 10 species of monkeys, forest elephants, and even hippos that won global attention for "surfing" ocean waves. The Central African country was the end point for biologist Michael Fay's 455-day Megatransect across the Congo rainforest. Gabon is one of few places on Earth where primary tropical rainforest extends all the way to the beach. Offshore the country has a wealth of marine life including a large population of humpback whales.

In September 2002, at the World Summit in Johannesburg, Gabon announced the establishment of its first national park system consisting of a network of 13 parks that would cover 10 percent of the country's lands mass--10,000 square miles (25,900 sq. kilometers). Previously, Gabon lacked a park system and "protected areas" were sometimes open to logging. Less than 1 percent of Gabon was truly protected under the old system.

News updates on Gabon


Cameroon has several well-known protected areas, including Campo Maían National Park, Dja Reserve, Lobeké National Park, Waza National Park, and Korup National Park, which have at times suffered from illegal logging and other forms of encroachment. The country has some 936 species of birds, 211 mammals, 322 reptiles, 192 amphibians, and 8,260 species of plants.

News updates on Cameroon

Central African Republic

Today about 16.6 percent of Central African Republic is under some form of protection, though institutional support for protected areas has historically been weak, and hunters and loggers operate in national parks. Central African Republic is home to about 3,600 species of plants, 663 birds, 131 mammals, 187 reptiles, and 29 amphibians.

News updates on Central African Republic

Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea is located in a region of high animal diversity, including 194 species of mammals, 418 birds, and 91 reptiles. The country is also home to 3,250 species of plants. On paper, 16.8 percent of the country is under some form of protection

News updates on Republic of Congo


Congo rainforest section contents: