Animals to spot in the Congo Basin?
If you decide to venture into the depths of the Congo, you are likely to come across a large number of living creatures. Plants, mammals, birds, insects, fish and reptiles – the Congo Basin is teeming with animals, each more fascinating than the last. Our imagination and popular culture have often led us to see Africa as a fairly homogenous continent where, in a vast savannah, a lion chases an antelope in a wild and hostile environment. In reality, however, this continent, where animal species and humans have lived for thousands of years, boasts a huge diversity of landscapes. By definition, the Congo Basin and its equatorial rainforest embody this richness. Here you will find many species, some of them endemic, that have found refuge in the heart of the dense forests, far from man. In this article, we’ll try to give you a flavour of this richness before you decide, perhaps, to go and see for yourself.
The great primates of the Congo Basin
Two of the wide variety of apes found around the globe can be seen on a Congo safari.
Famous for its close genetic relationship with humans, the chimpanzee is very common in the equatorial zone of Africa.
Although it belongs to the Pan genus of the Hominidae family, along with its cousin the Bonobo, it is mainly found north of the Congo River, in the Republic of Congo.
Its diet consists mainly of plant fruits and insects, which places it in the omnivore category. Proud of its great intelligence, the Chimpanzee has been widely introduced into human society.
In science, psychology, cinema and the circus, it is not uncommon to see this primate portrayed as a parallel to man.
However, the development of the animal cause and the major threats to the species and its natural habitat have led us to rethink the way it is treated in modern society, and have kept it away from laboratories and entertainment.
The lowland gorilla
Although highly endangered, the western lowland gorilla is still very present in the Congo Basin.
This majestic, strong animal, which has inspired a number of successful films, is a far cry from the brutal, stupid beast we are shown in cinemas and in popular culture.
Measuring 1.7 metres for males and 1.3 metres for females and weighing up to 230 kilos for the largest specimens, the gorilla is actually highly intelligent. Research has shown, for example, that it uses tools to live, such as branches, which it uses as a probe before crossing bodies of water.
Even more surprisingly, researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia have concluded that the rate of blood flow to the gorilla’s brain is twice as fast as that of our australopithecine ancestors. As a result, they are better oxygenated and have better connections, which has an impact on their cognition.
If you accidentally decide to dive into a pond in the Congo, we advise you to be careful not to disturb a potential mammal… measuring up to almost 4 metres and weighing up to 3.5 tons, the hippopotamus is considered to be the most dangerous animal in Africa.
Its aggressiveness is mainly due to its highly territorial behaviour, prompting it to confront any creature that comes too close to its habitat.
Its impressive jaw, which can open up to 180°, and its sharp 50cm canine teeth give it one of the most powerful jaws in the animal reign.
Despite this advantage, the hippopotamus feeds mainly on fodder, which it grazes at night. The rest of the day, it lurks in the water among its fellow creatures. Its unsocial nature has led to the herds being divided into 3 categories. The females on one side look after and protect the young, the males on the other, and the dominant alone.
This majestic creature, a symbol of Africa and the Congo crest, lives in the tropical forests of the Congo Basin.
Its natural habitat is very localised, in Central and West Africa in dense forests. This is largely due to the fact that the species has disappeared from 75% of the areas it once occupied. Poaching, the expansion of urban areas and ever-increasing deforestation policies are the main causes of this disappearance.
Today, thanks to the fight to protect animals and their natural habitats, many forest elephants have found refuge in protected areas, reserves and nature parks. This is where you’ll have the best chance of seeing them. Forest elephants are highly social creatures, living in smaller groups than their Asian cousins.
They play a key role in the ecosystem, as their diet and digestive habits encourage the germination of certain seeds. Knowing that a single elephant can easily eat 180kg of food a day from a wide variety of products, more than 300 according to studies, you understand the importance of this animal in its environment.
A wide variety of birds
Although the Congo Basin abounds in a unique wealth of animals, we tend to forget about those above our heads that we hear singing without seeing them, those that make the branches creak and that watch us with a watchful eye: the birds.
When it comes to ornithology, the Congo has nothing to envy the rest of the world. There are over 760 species living in Congo Brazzaville. From the little gnat-fly to the crowned eagle, not forgetting owls, falcons and pelicans, there are an impressive number of birds in the region. And with good reason: its dense forests and biodiversity provide a high-quality habitat for these winged creatures.
If you venture out into these areas, it’s not unlikely that you’ll spot one, but it’s all a question of how carefully you look.
If you would like to find out more about all the bird species found in the Congo, please visit the following website: https://www.oiseaux.net/oiseaux/famille.republique.du.congo.html
Insects, a micro-scale world that populates Africa.
If all the animals we have mentioned above manage to live, or even prosper, it is largely thanks to those we don’t see, the little creatures that walk under our feet, those at the base of the food chain.
The Congo Basin is home to 370,000 species of beetle, not counting the flies, ants and caterpillars that are present in their millions in the equatorial forest. Their presence ensures the pollination of more than 11,000 species of tropical plants, some of which are endemic to the region.
The region also abounds in butterflies, one of the most emblematic of which, the Papilio antimachus, can reach a wingspan of up to 25 cm.
Insects are also very popular in African culture and widely consumed. In the Republic of Congo, caterpillars already account for 10% of the population’s annual diet.
The Congo is home to a large number of rodents. But don’t worry, we’re not talking about disgusting-looking city rats. Scientific studies have captured and studied almost 12 species of rodents and soricomorphs (including moles and shrews).
Unlike all the other animals mentioned above, the latter do not find refuge in primary forests. Recent studies have shown that they thrive in areas inhabited by humans, such as fields and farmland, where they can find abundant food.
They are therefore a major issue for local populations, given the havoc they wreak. Rodents include squirrels, gerbils, shrews, dormice and mice.