The Congo Basin is home to the world's second-largest rainforest, but a new investigation accuses timber companies of endangering its existence.

Second in size to the Amazon, the Congolese rainforest covers some two million square kilometres. It runs through six African countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where locals and international non-profits say that the rainforests are shrinking at alarming rates.

A recent report by the non-profit organisation, Global Witness, alleges that the DRC's biggest timber company, Nord-Sud Timber, is illegally harvesting trees with impunity at nearly 90 percent of its sites. Nord-Sud, which is Portuguese-owned, denies that its Congolese subsidiary, Sodefor, is breaching its contracts, saying that "the accusations have no basis".

We actually believe that tropical timber ... should be treated like ivory. There's basically no excuse, no legitimacy, to cutting down these endangered species.

Jules Caron, campaigner, Global Witness

It acknowledges that "some management plans are not in place" but is talking with the Ministry of Environment about them. Global Witness is also accusing importers like Portugal and France of failing to take action.

In the meantime, researchers have been doing their best to learn about the forest's unique ecosystem - before it's too late.

"These forests are under pressure from humans," says Frank Bapeamoni, a researcher from the University of Kisangani, "so we scientists want to categorise the fauna, the birds and ornithology of this forest before it is destroyed." 

The Congo Rainforest is a source of food and water for millions of people. It's also home to 600 types of trees and 10,000 animal species, many of which are endangered. Scientists say these trees do provide oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, but their ability to reduce greenhouse gases and regulate the climate is decreasing.

Residents who live and maintain livelihoods along the waters of the basin say the logging has disrupted weather patterns.

"There is a disorder in the cycles," says one resident. "The rainy season normally starts in mid-August, but now sometimes it begins in July and sometimes in September."

Despite national and international laws designed to protect rainforests, Global Witness reports that companies like Nord-Sud Timber are endangering 75 million hectares of rainforest in the DRC. The organisation is demanding that all those involved, from governments to importers and buyers, stop being complicit in the destruction of the rainforests.

Global Witness further alleges that the government of the DRC has not been implementing its own laws on the matter.

"Our report shows that around 60 percent of the timber Nord-Sud Timber is exporting ... is classified as endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature," Jules Caron, a campaigner for Global Witness, tells Counting the Cost.

"We actually believe that tropical timber, or those that are threatened or endangered, should be treated like ivory. There's basically no excuse, no legitimacy, to cutting down these endangered species."

Caron says that, over the past six years, other non-governmental organisations have called out Nord-Sud Timber while the government of the DRC has failed to enforce existing laws.

"The first thing that needs to happen is for the DRC government to get serious and say that, one, if you breach the law, there will be consequences."

Source: Al Jazeera