Monitoring the Albertine Rift in Africa

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…from the Winter 2009/2010 issue of ArcNews

Stretching from the northern end of Lake Albert to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika and spanning portions of Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Tanzania, the Albertine Rift is one of Africa’s most important—and most threatened—sites for the conservation of biodiversity. Formed over the course of millions of years, the Albertine Rift is the result of two tectonic plates that collided and are now slowly pulling apart. This geologic activity has created some of the continent’s tallest mountains and a number of the world’s deepest lakes and contributed to the diversity of habitats that include active glaciers, alpine grasslands, volcanoes, lowland and montane forests, and various grass and woodland savannas.

Since the early 1990s, however, this hot spot of biodiversity (home to more than 7,500 species of endemic plants and animals) has been plagued by a series of devastating conflicts, resulting in more than 3 million deaths and the displacement of approximately 2.7 million people. The region is one of the most populous in Africa, with up to 300 people per square kilometer in some locations. In addition to the pressures of population density, an influx of refugees and the lack of settlement policies have compounded the problem of forest degradation, fragmentation, and loss—particularly in protected areas.

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