Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine

“Pygmy” refers to any human group whose adult males reach less than 150 cm (4 feet 11 inches) in height. They can be found in many places, but the highest density anywhere in the world exists in the Ituri Rainforest in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly called Zaire).

Pygmies are the “canary in the coal mine” for forest ecology in the last forests of Africa. As the forest goes, so go the Pygmies.

Most people believe Africa is full of Tarzan-style jungles. The truth is that there is only one strip left in the middle of the entire continent. The most pristine forest in that strip is the Ituri.

Pygmies are nomadic hunter-gatherers who rely on a healthy forest to …

Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine

“Pygmy” refers to any human group whose adult males reach less than 150 cm (4 feet 11 inches) in height. They can be found in many places, but the highest density anywhere in the world exists in the Ituri Rainforest in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly called Zaire).

Pygmies are the “canary in the coal mine” for forest ecology in the last forests of Africa. As the forest goes, so go the Pygmies.

Most people believe Africa is full of Tarzan-style jungles. The truth is that there is only one strip left in the middle of the entire continent. The most pristine forest in that strip is the Ituri.

Pygmies are nomadic hunter-gatherers who rely on a healthy forest to survive. They have no claim to their own home territory, however, because the colonial Belgians assigned land rights only to sedentary groups. Pygmies have hunting rights in association with the sedentary Bantus, and an age-old relationship that is not just commercial, but social and cultural.

Unfortunately, other groups moving into the area for resources don’t have similar symbiotic relationships and are hiring the Pygmies to cut down their own forest.

Ironically, instability is the main factor keeping this jungle healthy. The Kleptocracies that we are familiar with in Africa are devolving into Khakistocracies (rule by AK-47). During the Cold War, Western colonial powers propped up dictators like Mobutu because he wasn’t a Communist. After the Cold War ended, outside support waned and big countries in Africa are unable to control their own borders.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo and some of its neighbors are run by a loose amalgam of warlords with minimal centralized control. These warlords have been fighting around the Ituri for decades, and this ring of instability is the only thing that keeps the outside hordes from coming across the Albertine Rift, one of Africa’s most important areas of biodiversity in need of protection.

There are roughly 300 people per square kilometer on the east side of the rift and 3 per square kilometer on the west. Even with the instability, it won’t stay this way because the demand for resources is too great. Outsiders mining and smuggling gold and Coltan, another rare metal, are already exploiting the area and its people. Greater security along the Albertine rift will allow hordes to flow into the Ituri in search of its resources.

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