Photograph by Tim Freccia, United Nations Environment Programme
An orphaned gorilla rests at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International compound in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after being rescued from poachers. A total of four baby gorillas were airlifted to the sanctuary as part of United Nations peacekeeping mission on May 27, 2010.
The gorillas in the Virunga Mountain region are a focal point for the UN's 2010 World Environment Day (WED).
Since 1972, the UN has set aside June 5 to raise awareness of global environmental issues.
This year’s WED theme is “Many Species. One Planet. One Future.” The program spotlights how human activities are altering ecosystems by clear-cutting forests, draining wetlands, and changing Earth’s climate. The UN estimates that such activities are causing species to go extinct at perhaps 1,000 times the natural rate.
Mountain gorillas are an example of Africa’s incredible biodiversity—and they run up against the extreme challenges many species around the world face. Only about 700 mountain gorillas still live in the wilds of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to human encroachment, poaching, disease, and habitat loss.
Photograph by Chris Johns, National Geographic
Bushmen, armed with bows and arrows, cross a shimmering salt pan during a traditional hunt in Namibia. But this timeless scene is just a ghostly echo of a 20,000-year-old tradition. Those who live in Namibia’s Nyae Nyae conservation area typically wear Western clothes—except when displaying their culture for tourists. The San tribe once relied on hunting and gathering and are a rare living link to an ancient era of human existence. But few San remain today and their ancient lifestyle has largely eroded. Without much land, most bushmen must rely on government aid.
Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic
Rivers provide a transportation lifeline in the Republic of the Congo and throughout the leafy green expanse of the Congo rain forest. The Congo Basin is home to the world’s second-largest rain forest (after the Amazon) and an astounding collection of biological diversity that humans have only begun to comprehend. Many unknown species dwell in and under these trees, as do better-known animals like the African forest elephant, the okapi, and the bonobo—our closest living relative.
Elephant at Kilimanjaro
Photograph by Kevin Smith, My Shot
The plains of Kenya's Amboseli National Park offer a spectacular opportunity to see two African icons—a wild elephant and the snowy peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, across the border in Tanzania. The mountain helps to water surrounding grasslands and marshes that entice elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, hippos, rhinos, and other wildlife to the Kenyan preserve—making it a must-see for many safari aficionados.
Niger Delta Channels
Photograph by Ed Kashi, National Geographic
The oil and gas industry has left a mark on the Niger Delta that goes far deeper than these pipeline paths cut at Cawthorne Channel. The region is Nigeria’s economic engine, a center of an oil industry responsible for some 85 percent of the government’s revenue, according to World Bank estimates. Violence is common in the delta, where local groups use force to demand a greater share of the bounty. Sabotage has often targeted pipelines, causing spills and broadening the industry’s already-troubling environmental footprint.
Photograph by Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic
Fishermen ply the pre-dawn waters of the Nile Delta near Amarna, Egypt. The great river has nourished the Egyptian civilization for centuries, creating a verdant green corridor through the nation’s mostly arid expanse.
After springing from headwaters in Burundi and Ethiopia, the Nile flows 4,040 miles (6,500 kilometers) through ten different nations on its way to the Mediterranean Sea. Some 160 million people depend on its waters for drinking, sanitation, irrigation, power, and more.
Red Dune, Green Tree
Photograph by Michael Poliza, National Geographic
Sossusvlei’s sand dunes, in Namibia, are among the most spectacular in the world. In the Nama tongue, Sossusvlei is dubbed “the gathering place of water.” But modern Namibians and visitors typically find a clay pan at the terminus of the often-empty Tsauchab River, which supports trees by infrequent floods. The site is surrounded by the towering dunes and some 21,235 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) of stunning Namib Desert.
Local animals have adapted techniques to live in the desert’s extreme climate, including absorbing moisture from mists spawned on the seacoast 44 miles (70 kilometers) away.
Leaping, Swimming Wildebeests
Photograph by Michael Poliza, National Geographic
Wildebeests storm across Kenya’s Mara River during an annual migration that’s epic even by Africa’s lofty standards. Each year more than a million wildebeests, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of zebras, gazelles, and other animals, head for greener grazing pastures. At the end of the rainy season they move from their calving grounds on Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain north to Kenya. The animals return later in the year to complete a 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) round trip.
Photograph by Kevin Arnold, National Geographic
Elephants young and old gather to slake their thirst at a water hole in Masai Mara, Kenya. The massive mammals also employ their trunks to provide a self-cooling shower. At 5,000 to 14,000 pounds (2,268 to 6,350 kilograms) these African giants are the largest land animals on Earth—a bit bigger than their Asian relatives. Female and young elephants are usually seen in herds like those congregating at this water hole.
Photograph by Jodi Cobb, National Geographic
A giraffe roams Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of Earth’s largest inland deltas. The massive “aquatic jungle” is created where the Okavango River spills into the sands at the edge of the Kalahari Desert. The green oasis is swelled each year by seasonal rains in the highlands of Angola—some 500 miles (805 kilometers) upstream, and becomes a lush wildlife haven half the size of Lake Erie.
Gorilla and Ranger
Photograph by Brent Stirton, National Geographic
A ranger keeps watch over mountain gorillas—and vice versa—in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The gorillas live in thick, cloudy forests at altitudes up to 13,000 feet (4,000 meters)
Though mountain gorillas remain perilously close to extinction, their populations have actually increased, largely due to intense protection afforded them by national parks in Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. Similar efforts will be necessary to preserve much of what makes African biodiversity so special.
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