In 1888, when he led the first expedition across the forests of the northern Congo, Henry Morton Stanley surmised that this region “held the greatest marvels of Africa”. He was right. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a number of globally important flagship species, the best known being the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee, the eastern lowland gorilla, the Congo peafowl, the fishing genet, the northern white rhino, and the okapi, all of them endemic (only found in the DRC) and of great international significance.
Over 1,500 species of plants and animals, including the elusive okapi, are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Also of importance is the mountain gorilla which straddles the Uganda/Rwanda/DRC borders.
One of the most important centers of plant and animal diversity in the Congo rainforest is the lowland Ituri Forest. Mbuti Pygmy hunter-gathers and Bantu shifting cultivators occupying small, transitory villages and camps have lived in the Ituri Forest for centuries, perhaps millennia. These communities rarely threatened the integrity of the Ituri, rather their activities generally enriched the overall composition of the forest by providing pockets of secondary vegetation. During the Colonial Era, many settlements were relocated along roads, thus leaving large un-navigable areas unoccupied.
The DRC also has striking cultural diversity with some 250-300 different languages spoken.
The most interesting people of this country are the Pygmies, who are found in most equatorial African countries. The Mbuti Pygmies, living in the forests of northeast Congo, are among the few true forest people still living traditional lifestyles. They are the smallest people on earth with men averaging 4’8″ and women 4′ 6″. These people are hunter-gathers and deep forest dwellers, but they have evolved a symbiotic relationship with neighboring Bantu agriculturists who live in clearings and grow crops. The Pygmies trade game and other forest products for iron goods, tobacco, and cultivated food.