The Congo Basin-Hotbed of Biodiversity

Shimon Shuchat
Elephant Listening Project
3 min readJun 19, 2017
The rainforests of the Congo Basin, where forest elephants live, are a biodiversity hotspot that are also home to many other animal species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.

In addition to forest elephants, the rainforests of Central Africa are also home to many other animal and plant species. The Congo Basin’s rainforests are the second largest in the world after the Amazon. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a megadiverse nation with five of its national parks listed as World Heritage Sites¹. Forest elephants have the potential to serve as an umbrella species for conservation of this enormous array of biodiversity.

The Congo Basin is home to more than 400 mammal species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world². The Okapi, for example, is a strange looking relative of the giraffe with a dark brown body, black and white stripes along its hindquarters and legs, and a dexterous tongue³. The forest clearings known as “bais” that are commonly frequented by forest elephants are also visited by large, striped antelope called bongo as well as by red river hogs⁴. Pangolins³, the Cameroon clawless otter⁵, genets, chevrotains, and six dwarf antelope species of the genus Cephalophus also live in the forests of the Congo⁶.

A wide variety of primates can be found in the Congo Basin. These include three of the great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos, a species endemic to the Basin⁵. In addition, many species of monkeys live here such as Bouvier’s island and black colobus monkeys, sun tailed monkeys, and mandrills, the world’s largest monkey⁵. In 2012, a new monkey species called the Leslua was discovered in the Congo that quickly became famous for its humanlike face and mane of long blonde hair⁷.

The Congo river is well known for its high diversity of fish. 686 species have already been discovered with 80% of them being unique to this part of Africa⁸. The river is dominated by elephant fish, cichlids, and catfish. Elephant fish, as their name suggests, have long snouts, but also electrified organs in their tails which are used for navigation and communication. Cichlids are known for carrying their eggs and young in their mouths as well as building rock piles for use in courtship displays. Lungfish are also common here. They can live in low oxygen water due to their ability to breathe air⁸. Unfortunately, the Congo river’s fish species are coming under increasing threat from the use of poisons, explosives, and illegal large nets to catch them⁸.

The Congo’s forests contain more than 10,000 species of tropical plants (30% unique to the region), 1000 bird species, 216 species of amphibians, 280 species of reptile, and 900 species of butterfly². These include the Congo Peafowl with its brightly colored red and blue plumage and straight white crest to Chapin’s chameleons which have a light green body, dark spots, and four white horns protruding from their heads⁵. The rainforest’s wet environment provides ideal habitat for frogs and toads such as the Katanga Dainty Frog which is bright green with a bright yellow underside⁵. This dizzying array of variety makes the Congo Basin a biodiversity hotspot.

Central Africa’s rainforests are coming under increasing threat from many sources. These include logging, oil exploration, road building, poaching, and the bush meat trade⁹. Protecting African forest elephants and their habitat has the potential to not only save the species from extinction but can at the same time save many more that also depend on this rainforest habitat for survival.


¹“Democratic Republic of the Congo.” February 23, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2017.

²“Elephants, duikers and shrews, part of a diverse regional portrait.” Accessed March 29, 2017.

³“Mammals of the Congo Basin Rainforests.” Accessed March 29, 2017.

⁴ Accessed March 29, 2017.

⁵ Accessed March 29, 2017.

⁶“Okapi Wildlife Refuge.” Accessed March 29, 2017.

⁷Hart, John A., Kate M. Detwiler, Christopher C. Gilbert, Andrew S. Burrell, James L. Fuller, Maurice Emetshu, Terese B. Hart, Ashley Vosper, Eric J. Sargis, and Anthony J. Tosi. “Lesula: a new species of Cercopithecus monkey endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and implications for conservation of Congo’s Central Basin.” PLoS One 7, no. 9 (2012): e44271.

⁸“Fish of the Congo River.” Accessed March 29, 2017.

⁹“Congo Basin: Overview.” Accessed March 29, 2017.

Find out more about the Elephant Listening Project
To conserve the tropical forests of Africa through acoustic monitoring, sound science, and education, focusing on forest elephants