Covering an area of almost 342 000 square kilometres, Republic of the Congo is slightly smaller than Montana. The population is a mere four million people, of which 70% live in the south-west in the urban centres of Brazzaville (the capital) and Pointe-Noire (the major port); the rest of the country is sparsely populated and largely pristine.
Straddling the equator, Congo has narrow coastal strip on the Atlantic Ocean. Its bordering countries include Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon. This little-known former French colony was spared the conflict of neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and not having shared neighbouring Gabon's recent limelight, tourism to the Congo is at a fledgling stage with an aura of exploration and discovery enhancing every journey into its interior.
The economy is a mixture of subsistence agriculture, an industrial sector based largely on oil and support services, and government spending. Oil has supplanted forestry as the mainstay of the economy, providing a major share of government revenues and exports.
While deforestation is a problem, the rainforests in the country's north lie in the heart of the Congo Basin which comprises the world's second largest expanse of tropical rainforest. Rivers such as the Sangha, Mambili and the mighty Congo drain this basin and provide a means of exploration through dense forests and access to remote national parks such as Odzala-Kokoua, Nouabale-Ndoki and Conkouati-Douli. It is in these areas that endemic wildlife flourishes and traditional Pygmy cultures persist.
The development of ecotourist camps in Odzala-Kokoua by the Wilderness Collection will contribute to the conservation of critical elements of central African biodiversity. We believe Congo - with its low population, pristine ecosystem, spectacular biodiversity and stable democracy - is the best country in which to achieve this.
Equatorial forest covers much of Republic of Congo's landscape, stretching from the Massif de Chaillu and Mayombe forests in the south to enormous tracts of primary forest in the north. These forests form part of the larger Congo Basin, a region that spans six countries and contains a quarter of the world's tropical forests. Congo's forests have not always covered their current area, but have naturally expanded and contracted over long periods of time and with ice ages and droughts.
Countrywide, more than 400 mammal species, 1 000 bird species, 700 fish and nearly 10 000 plant species, of which 3 000 are found nowhere else, have been recorded. The country's remote northern forests harbour the highest known gorilla densities, including an estimated 125 000 western lowland gorillas. A recent census by Wildlife Conservation Society also revealed that unexpectedly large numbers of great apes are alive and well in these remote northern forests. The news effectively doubled the estimated worldwide population of western lowland gorillas. Other large mammals include forest elephants, forest buffalo and the bongo.
The forests of the Congo have long been a source of food and shelter for hunter-gatherer societies, who have been hunting duikers, bush pigs, monkeys, and other mammals for generations. Animal products such as skins, horns, feathers, and bones play important roles in cultural and religious ceremonies. However, as human populations grow and their natural resource base continues to shrink due to industrial exploitation, they seek access into formerly remote areas. Increasingly, roads crisscross the forest, and urban societies are putting down new roots there. As a result, many of the region's large mammals, such as forest elephants, western gorillas, and chimpanzees, have become endangered.
The climate in the Congo is the same across the country, with slight variations between the northern and southern regions. In general, the year is divided into four seasons:
A long rainy season from October to December, a short dry season from January to February, a short rainy season from March to April, and a long dry season from May to September.
The north is equatorial, hot and humid, while in the south the climate is tropic and humid with slightly less rain from October to May and a dry period from June to September. The centre is distinguished by a sub-equatorial climate marked by a very pronounced dry season.