The DRC landscape is dominated by the world's second largest tropical rainforest area  and offers an exceptionally large diversity of biomes and ecosystems.
In terms of species diversity, the DRC is the most biologically diverse country in Africa and one of the most important biodiversity centres in the world, encompassing more than half of Africa’s tropical forest . Globally, the country ranks fifth for animal and plant diversity.
The DRC is home to 450 species of mammals, 1150 species of birds, 400 species of fish, and over 15,000 species of plants , . Included are rare species such as the northern white rhino, mountain gorilla, endemic okapi, as well as endemic great apes (the eastern lowland gorilla and bonobo). Endemicity is high — 6% of mammals and 10% of plants are only found in the DRC . In addition, the DRC contains five natural World Heritage sites, more than the rest of Africa combined. A vast network of protected areas representing about 8% of the national territory preserves DRC’s variety of ecosystems. This includes Virunga National Park, home to the famous mountain gorilla .
However, widespread poverty, recurring conflict and economic dependence on mineral extraction is putting unprecedented pressure on the country’s spectacular biodiversity, with poaching, pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion all threatening wildlife and habitats . For example, in 2016, a report by Fauna & Flora International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other partners found that Grauer’s gorillas, better known as mountain gorillas, have experienced a shocking 77% decline since 1995 , as a result of illegal hunting, civil unrest and habitat loss from mining .
The direct and indirect pressures on biodiversity are numerous and mainly of an anthropogenic nature. The main threats in DRC have remained the same for a long time , and are deforestation; habitat degradation; poaching; uncontrolled fishing and mining; and the introduction of invasive alien species . Deforestation is exacerbated by factors such as the strong dependence of the population on fuelwood, extensive slash-and-burn agriculture practices, and the uncontrolled establishment of mining quarries.
Bushmeat hunting is also widespread in the Congo Basin, and animals like monkeys, duikers, and antelopes are common targets, although species like gorillas and bonobos are also endangered .
Key policies and governance approach
The DRC was the first African country to make its mark on nature conservation by creating the Virunga National Park in 1925 and the Rubi-Tele Forest Reserve in 1930 . Today, a number of ministries are involved and share responsibility in the management and conservation of biodiversity in the DRC. The Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism (MENCT) has the leading role. There are also other relevant bodies, such as the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) .
Some of the most relevant pieces of legislation related to biodiversity conservation in the DRC include: the 2002 Forest Code, the Mining Code, the Decree on Hunting, Law No. 14/003 on Protection of the Nature, among others .
In 2016, the DRC revised its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) to protect its forest resources and biodiversity. The revised NBSAP focuses on the sustainable management of protected areas; reducing anthropogenic pressures on natural habitats; increasing the benefits generated by the exploitation of genetic resources and payment for ecosystem services; and the restoration of essential ecosystem services .
In 2018, the DRC signed the Brazzaville declaration to protect the Cuvette Centrale region in the Congo Basin, the world’s largest tropical peatlands, from unregulated land use and prevent its drainage and degradation . The declaration aims to implement coordination and cooperation between different government sectors to protect the benefits provided by peatland ecosystems in the country. It also recognizes the importance of the scientific breakthrough of mapping the world’s largest tropical peatland area.
Successes and Remaining Challenges
The DRC has legal and institutional frameworks for promoting the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, the fundamental problem lies in the ineffectiveness of its implementation and enforcement. In addition, biodiversity protection responsibilities are spread across many ministries, and consequently there is bound to be duplication of functions and conflict of authority .
In DRC, barriers to the conservation of biodiversity have been identified as the lack of scientific knowledge on biodiversity; the extensive and uncontrolled exploitation of water resources, particularly with regard to fishing activities; the pollution of water resources in the hydrocarbon sector; poor management of protected areas; inadequate legislation; lack of emergency plans and national early warning systems; armed conflicts; financing of military activities through the exploitation of natural resources such as diamonds, gold, coltan; and misappropriation of funds for conservation activities , .
Efficient access to data about biodiversity is essential for effective conservation and sustainable use . The DRC’s biodiversity is among the least known of all African countries; large areas of forest remain unexplored and large taxonomic groups barely studied . There is not yet a biodiversity review and monitoring system or a set of indicators, and taxonomic inventories have not been maintained for over 70 years .
There are also challenges related to a lack of public awareness of the importance of conserving DRC's peatlands, forests and biodiversity resources . Recognition of the importance of conservation of biodiversity resources of the DRC at the national level, awareness of the threats that these ecosystems face, their socio-economic and environmental importance, is fundamental for their conservation.
Initiatives and Development Plans
In close cooperation with the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), the EU finances numerous projects in DRC’s protected areas. Virunga, the Salonga and Garamba national parks, the Upemba-Kundelengu complex and the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve are benefiting from the €140 million mobilised by the European Development Fund.
Half of the funding is dedicated to the preservation of biodiversity, while the other half is dedicated to the development of the surrounding communities. In Virunga alone, 2,500 direct jobs, 4,200 jobs in connected SMEs and 15,000 indirect jobs have been created, whilst 350 mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), 500 elephants and 2,500 hippos have returned to the area.
In Garamba National Park, the EU has funded farmer field schools, educational beehives and, most importantly, two solar mini-grids that provide renewable energy to 1,000 households, 140 small businesses and 11 public services .
- Integrate local knowledge into biodiversity conservation policies and plans.
- Diversify the economy beyond agriculture and dependence on the exploitation of natural resources.
- Strengthen the capacities of institutions for the planning and implementation of biodiversity and ecosystem management.
- Improve regulation and enforcement to protect protected areas.
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