Geography & Wildlife
Congo river and basin
The two countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and the Republic of Congo are often described together as ‘the Congo basin’.
A mighty long river
At over 4,650km in length, the River Congo is Africa’s second-longest river – see Map.
This is because the Congo River runs through a low-lying area in the centre and north of the region. The land here lies at 300-600m and has many swamps, rivers and lakes.
Like a giant saucer, the basin is surrounded by upland regions. A high plateau rises to mountain ranges which run along the eastern side of the DR Congo, where there are a number of active volcanoes – see Tourism and Communications.
In the north, the Rwenzori Range stretches along the border with Uganda and Rwanda, the Margherita peak is its highest point (at 5,110 metres). These mountains are often shrouded in cloud and the tops are covered in glaciers. Further south, the Mitumba Massif sits along the middle of the eastern side.
A new monkey species
A new monkey species was recently found in remote lowland forests. The lesula (Cercopithecus lomamiensis) has a naked face and mane of blond/brown hairs. It is the first new species of monkey discovered in Africa for over a quarter of a century.
Though there are extensive grasslands in parts of the country (particularly in the south), much of the DR Congo is covered in trees. The equatorial forests are home to a huge variety of flora and fauna.
There are over 400 different species of mammals, from the large ‘megafauna’ such as elephants, and gorillas, to smaller animals such as monkeys, bats and rodents.
Unusual animals include like the giant pangolin (Manis gigantea) and the western tree hyrax (Dendrohyrax dorsalis). Looking like a large rodent, the hyrax is actually an ungulate (a hoofed animal) and a distant relative of the elephant.
A paradise for birds
The DR Congo has more than 1,130 species of birds, more varieties than any other country in Africa. Its many water birds, ground birds, birds of prey, fruit-eaters, hole-nesters and passerines/perching birds include endemic species only found in this part of the world.
For example, the Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis) is a green-winged ground feeder, which lives deep in the forests of the Congo basin (see photo). Another bird found only in the DR Congo is the Congo bay owl (Phodilus prigoginei), a small owl living in the east.
Big is beautiful
With its abundance of insects (too many to count accurately), there are over 300 species of reptile and 200 species of amphibians to prey on them.
The country has some impressive invertebrates, which include the giant African land snail (Achatina achatina) and the golden-orb web spider (Nephila pilipes). At 20cm from toe to toe, the female spider dwarfs her male companion which is only a tenth of her size.
The goliath beetle (Goliathus giganteus) is the bulkiest insect on the planet, growing up to 11cm in length. And if you think that's large, the beetle's larvae can reach up to 25cm and weigh 100 grams.