African Wildlife is diverse and wealthy. No other continent matches the wealth of wildlife found in Africa covering the full climatic spectrum from intense heat to bitter cold. Its varied vegetation has given rise to a wide range of animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects. Among them are more than 40 species of primate, ranging from tiny galagos to huge gorillas, a great variety of antelopes, gazelles and other hoofed animals and 70 species of carnivore. Bird life, too, is extraordinarily rich. More than 1,500 species live south of the Sahara. In addition Africa is inhabited by: the world’s fastest land animal the cheetah, the biggest bird the ostrich and the largest land animal the elephant.
African grasslands (Savannahs) sustain over 20 species of grazing animals from the giant sable antelope to the tiny pygmy antelope. The herds of plains game and their predators, including lions, are pursued by scavengers such as hyenas and vultures. Grassland birds include the guinea fowl and hornbills.
The lion is the principal predator of the African Savannah. Lionesses hunt together preying on large animals such as buffalo, zebra and wildebeest.
Zebras usually live in family groups of 5–20 animals. But in the dry season they may gather in herds of a few hundred for protection against predators such as lions. Male zebras defend themselves by kicking out with their legs and hooves. Zebras eat the tough tops of the grasses.
The giraffe’s great height gives it the advantage of being able to spot danger from a distance and then escape at speed. Males reach up to 5.5m (18ft). It also enables the giraffe to browse on acacia leaves that are out of the reach of most other grassland animals giving it a near monopoly of its principal food supply.
Among the most striking of Africa’s grassland birds is the secretary bird with its long legs and feathered crest it rarely flies preferring to walk, nodding its head with each step. It attacks snakes spreading its wings over its body to shield itself from venomous bites while using its feet to stamp them to death.
The Aardvark is a solitary nocturnal animal. It uses its powerful claws to break into the nests of ants and termites which it extracts with its long, sticky tongue. The Aardvark can dig at an astonishing speed – faster than a person with a shovel.
Africa’s wetlands are seething with wildlife, such as crocodiles, hippos, floodplain species such as leeches and fish including the Nile perch and tiger fish. The wetlands also provide stopping places for migratory birds flying south to winter in Africa.
The most common plant in African swamps is papyrus. It grows in clumps, often dense enough to support the weight of large animals.
Hippos spend most of the day submerged in water with only their ears, eyes and nostrils above the surface. They become active at dusk when they emerge from the water to graze on nearby grassland.
Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika contain 265 different species of cichlid (Mouth brooding fish). All but five are unique to Africa. Great depth, isolation and few predators have resulted in this proliferation.
Three million flamingos gather at Lake Nakuru in Kenya forming an amazing spectacle. They feed on the plentiful algae that flourish in the salty water, sunlight and high temperatures in and around the lake.
The African deserts include the Sahara, the world’s largest desert and the deserts of the Horn of Africa, Kalahari and Namib. Though the deserts seem barren, they are home to many animals such as bustards, sand grouse and the scimitar–horned Oryx.
The addax lives in the driest and hottest parts of the Sahara conditions few other animals could tolerate. It rarely drinks as it obtains all its liquid from the succulent plants and tubers on which it feeds.
The Sand skink spends most of its life underground in it burrow. It uses its flattened tail to propel itself through the sand. It preys on small mammals such as mice as well as birds’ eggs. If attacked the sand skink can shed its tail confusing its attacker and enabling it to get away.
Despite Living in the open desert, sand grouse must drink regularly. This often means flying long distances. Sand Grouse obtain water for their young by immersing themselves in water and carrying droplets back to their nests in their feathers.
The fennec lives in small colonies among sand dunes into which it burrows to avoid the heat. It burrows so quickly. It disappears from sight in seconds.
Rainforests dominate western central Africa. The warm, wet environment is home to many animals. Herbivores such as gorillas feed on leaves. Fruit that falls from the canopy provides food for pigs and porcupines while animals such as tree pangolins forage in the trees.
Small Spotted Genet:
This cat–like animal spends the day asleep in the branches of a tree, becoming active at night. An agile climber it stalks its prey–birds, small mammals and insects like a cat, before seizing it with a sudden pounce.
Standing 1 m (3.3ft) at the shoulder, the yellow–backed duiker is the largest of the forest duikers. In West Africa it lives in the densest parts of the rain forest. In East Africa it lives in bamboo forests.
The mountain gorilla is confined to a small area of rainforest at a point where the boundaries of Uganda, Zaire and Rwanda meet. It is a massively built animal but is nor normally aggressive. The females build nests where they sleep with their young.
Red Colobus Monkey:
The Red Colobus is one of five species of specialized leaf-eating primates spread across Africa. It lives in the forest canopy in family groups of about 20 animals, rarely descending to the ground.
The mountains of Ruwenzori, Kenya and Kilimanjaro have distinctive plants and animals. Rodents inhabit moorland while the scarlet–tufted malachite sunbird lives in close association with giant lobelias.
The gelada is the sole survivor of a group of ground–dwelling primates now found only in Ethiopia. It lives in open country at high altitude close to cliffs and rock faces where it retreats if alarmed. It eats seeds, roots, grass and fruit.
Rock hyraxes live in colonies of 50 or more among rocky outcrops. They remain alert for signs of danger such as eagles and leopards.
Crowned Hawk Eagle:
One of the largest eagles, the crowned hawk eagle is widely distributed throughout the mountainous regions of east Africa and Zaire wherever there are suitable forests containing the monkeys that are its chief food.
Africa’s mountain plants include some of the most extraordinary vegetation in the world. Plants small elsewhere have grown into giants, including the giant lobelia, tree heath and giant groundsel which reaches 9m (30ft) in height.
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