A symphony of sounds rises into the humid Congolese air as I search for my travel companions. Though it’s only 8 a.m., the humid air hangs on us like a soggy sweater. But the noises around us are not what you might expect.
In Brazzaville, the capital city of Republic of Congo, it can be difficult to distinguish between construction and deconstruction.
Unlike the vast array of insect chirps and wildlife vocalizations sure to keep us awake at night when we arrive at the base camp deep in the tropical jungle, here in Brazzaville we are inundated with a chorus of car horns, the rumbling of transport trucks and the steady beat of construction that seems constant along every street.
Along with Maureen Leahy, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Curator of Primates and Lisa Faust, Vice President of Conservation and Science, I have arrived here in the Republic of Congo to visit the Goualougo Triangle. Today, though, we are in the capital city awaiting our flight to Northern Congo.
Like many metropolitan centers, growth and expansion is constant, but Brazzaville, a city of about 1.4 million inhabitants, seems almost obsessively driven by such change. Signs of economic development are everywhere, and, in fact, today marks the initiation of a major conference during which the nation’s president himself welcomed a host of dignitaries to discuss such growth. The resulting traffic jam provides plenty of opportunity for us to view a seemingly endless line of hollow structures standing in varying states of construction or deconstruction—it’s difficult to tell most of the time.
What all of this growth means to this country of 4.3 million is difficult to predict. While there is clearly a need for sustainable infrastructure and the resulting economic benefits, the expansion of cities and the facilitation of foreign exploration of natural resources undoubtedly causes concern for wildlife advocates.
As we continue our travels, the tall concrete buildings will be replaced by a towering jungle canopy. The bustling streets will be replaced with pathways—“boulevards” created by forest elephants. With luck, we’ll have the opportunity to travel with groups of chimpanzees and lowland gorillas as they traverse the landscape of the Goualougo Triangle.
Dave Morgan, research fellow in the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes and our host in Congo, guides us to a restaurant which, like almost every other structure, appears to be under renovation. Multicolored tendrils of wires and cables snake along the wall beside our table, and I can't help but anticipate the days ahead when the only vines we see are green and leafy and the morning air is filled with the distant calls of the resident chimpanzees.