The Western and Central parts of the African Continent, were once abounded with dense Rain Forests. The European adventurers and novelists of the nineteenth century were very much attracted by the mysterious aspects of these places, and in their accounts there are varying descriptions of impenetrable forests, with greenish light filtering in through towering trees, the deep hush broken by the high-pitched calling of birds, and the occasional roar of carnivores; the Tarzan books, to mention an example, have just a similar setting, although, their author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, never saw the shores of Africa. For a long time, nothing was known about the forest interiors, even today there is still much unexplored and undiscovered by the scientists. However, since logging was allowed in the 1970s, and subsequently, logging roads were built to facilitate the industry, the forests have been laid open to human exploitation, and have drastically suffered.
One of the few intact ones, still lies in the Congolese River Basin, in the south-western region of the Central African Republic, a country set in the heart of Africa and hemmed in by Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), and the Republic of Congo. The Dzanga-Sanga Rain Forest, as it is known, is now a protected Reserve, stretching across 3,159 sq. km., and it is exceptional for its rich biodiversity. Biodiversity means the wide variety of living things and their interlinking relationships with one another and with the environment. It is this that manages the life-sustaining balance on the Earth. It greatly intrigues scientists, as it may help them to understand how life evolved and diversified. Some of the world's most spectacular and endangered wildlife species are found here. These include the Forest Elephants and Lowland Gorillas, as well as other species, like Chimpanzees, Bongos, a wide variety of birds, insects, and microorganisms, like fungi or bacteria. Many of these species are endemic to the Dzanga-Sanga, that is, they are only found in this particular area.
It is also home to the forest-dwelling BaAka Pygmies, who have traditionally depended on the forest flora and fauna for their livelihood. These gentle, nomadic people, residing in easily erected grass shelters, were once reviled and hunted as animals, by both Africans and the European colonialists. As a result they developed the habit of shying clear of civilization and, although many of them are now integrating into modern life, many still keep to themselves. They are a subject of great interest for Anthropologists and Forest Conservationists, who are trying to understand their non-destructive relationship with the forest and perhaps use some of their methods for future conservation. This is of paramount importance as many of the species, since they specifically occur in the Dzanga-Sanga, will be lost if their habitat is destroyed. Each of these species developed over millions of years and under certain specific conditions that cannot be recreated again, and with each extinction, the place of that species in the natural scheme of things is gone, while a window to the earlier living history is shut forever.
The universal threats of habitat encroachment, brought about by human resettlement and resource exploitation, which in turn lead to climatic changes, apply to the Dzanga-Sanga as well. Apart from the Pgymies, the Central African Republic is populated by around 80 different ethnic groups like the Bantu, Mbororo, Baya, Banda, Sara, Mandija, Mboum, and Mbaka, as well as Europeans. Many of these, not indigenous to the Central African Republic, came either to avoid the slave trading going on in other parts of Africa, during the earlier centuries, or to avail of the better economic opportunities found here. The Central African Republic opened up its forests for logging in 1972 and has some of the most productive diamond mines in the whole world. These industries, together with the new one of Eco-tourism, has attracted waves of new migrants, who have relinquished traditional nomadic ways for steady employment. They require land for building settlements as well as for crop cultivation, so, more and more of the forest gets encroached upon. The demand for meat has resulted in an increase in poaching activities that the inadequate number of Forest Guards are unable to effectively control. The mining activities too have caused soil degradation, which in turn has adversely affected the forest.
It is not going to be easy to protect the Dzanga-Sanga from these threatening factors, but important steps have been taken in that direction. In 1986, the government of the Central African Republic, together with the World Wildlife Fund, established the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park and the Dzanga-Sanga Dense Forest Reserve. Hunting, Mining, and Human Settlements, have been officially banned here; excepting the traditionally existing tribes, who are allowed to make a limited use of the forest flora and fauna, and whose help has been enlisted in the conservation efforts as well as in the Ecotourism activities. As more and more people understand that saving the forest is to their own advantage, it is likely that they will be more respectful of how they use its resources, and hopefully the Dzanga-Sanga will be still around for future generations.