The TL2 Forest: Africa’s Last Frontier

Deep in the heart of Africa lies the Congo basin, a legendary sea of emerald green tropical rainforest second only in size to the Amazon. This region is home to some of the planet’s most iconic, yet least known, wildlife – Eastern (Mountain and Eastern Lowland) and Western Lowland Gorillas, Central and Eastern Chimpanzees, Bonobo, Okapi, Forest Elephant, and Bongo – all hidden deep in the heart of an impenetrable wilderness.

Over the years, a scattering of places has been slowly opened up to outside attention – Dzanga Sangha, Ituri, Nouabale-Ndoki, and Salonga – as researchers have aimed to unearth the secrets of their wildlife. Increasingly, intrepid researchers are going remoter than ever before, exploring places so pristine and untouched that they are making an amazing array of discoveries – huge populations of Bonobos and Congo Peafowl in the Lomako-Yokolala Faunal Reserve, a distinct community of tens of thousands of naive Chimpanzees in the Bili-Uere, a forest-savanna mosaic of unparalleled diversity in the Chinko basin, and a monumental migration of almost a million antelope in South Sudan’s Boma-Badingilo ecosystem. But there’s one place to rule them all – a jungle so remote and untouched that even the locals rarely traveled there: the interfluvial rainforests between the Tshuapa, Lomami, and Lualaba Rivers, or TL2 forest, in the East-Central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The TL2 was brought to outside attention in 2007 by Drs. John and Terese Hart, two American researchers who had working in the DRC’s Ituri forest for decades previously. At the time, they were truly entering the unknown, exploring a place that at the time, was little more than a blank spot on the map. Accompanied by a team of Congolese naturalists, they found a sanctuary of amazing diversity forgotten by time…

Biogeographically, the TL2 forest is the meeting point of the faunas of the left and right banks of the Congo River. Here, species thought to never occur alongside each other such as the Bonobo and the Okapi – emblems of the left and right banks of the Congo respectively – were found living together. In this living laboratory of biodiversity, they found a stunning diversity of primates: 2 subspecies of Red-tailed Monkey hybridizing; the endemic Lomami Red Colobus, Kasuku River Wolf’s Monkey, and Lomami River Blue Monkey; and the incredible combination of Leopard, Four-toed Elephant Shrew, White-bellied Duiker, and Giant Pangolin. They even discovered an intact population of Forest Elephants of global significance, long safe from poaching. Most amazingly, they discovered a new population of the Dryad Monkey and a new species of monkey, the marvelous Lesula.

However, this wilderness is under threat. Marauding bands of rebels and elephant poachers threaten the integrity of this intact ecosystem and the lack of governance at the regional level precludes the stability of this precious region. Extrajudicial killings, disappearances, extortion, and banditry are the facts of life here. Desperate poverty and widespread corruption and violence deal a harsh hand to the people of this remote part of the world.

Fortunately, there is hope – the TL2 project, founded by the Harts, aims to create a functional protected area in the landscape to save the Bonobos, Okapis, Forest Elephants, and Lesulas of this precious forest. In doing so, they hope to bring long-lost peace to this most deserving region. Read more at http://www.bonoboincongo.com/.