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The Congo region is one of Earth's great wilderness areas. Its rain forests are home to more than 1,000 plant species, over 300 species of birds in 55 families, and dozens of mammal species, including the endangered forest elephant, the western lowland gorilla, and the central chimpanzee. Until the 1960s, the jungles around the Sangha River were relatively unfragmented, as indigenous people subsisted through traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering methods.
But over the past 40 years, loggers have introduced a new way of life based on forestry. Today, about 20 species of trees are being harvested, with more than 80 percent of the timber removed belonging to 4 tree species collectively termed "African mahogany." Because mahogany is scattered throughout the jungle, loggers do not have to clear large swaths of forest to harvest it, but they do need a network of roads to transport the timber once it is cut. These roads have changed forest vegetation, allowed increased hunting, and forced wildlife into less impacted forest areas.
Scientists from Woods Hole Research Center are helping the international community conserve the biodiversity of the Sangha River region by analyzing satellite data. Their study shows the expansion of logging roads throughout northern Congo. Researchers have also mapped vegetation in the region and continue to monitor land cover to track human impacts on wildlife habitats. Such analyses provide an important perspective on human land use in and around the protected areas. The data also illustrate land use in nonprotected areas, providing insight into the region's socioeconomic pressures.
This visualization includes data from the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus sensor aboard NASA's Landsat 7 satellite and data derived from the Thematic Mapper sensor aboard Landsat 5 and the Multispectral Scanner aboard Landsat 2.