African Animals

African Animals

The fauna of Africa is made up by all the animals living on the African continent and its surrounding seas and island. When we talk about African animals we usually think about the animals living in sub-Saharan Africa – such as African bush elephants, gorillas, and lemurs – but the animals living in and around Sahara are naturally also a part of the African fauna. Even though Sahara might seem like a relentless habitat, quite a lot of African animals have adapted to a life here.

History of the African mammals
The fauna of Africa has undergone major changes throughout history. During the early Tertiary the land was covered in vast evergreen forests and the forest fauna was quite similar to that of southern Asia who had a comparable climate. In the Pliocene Africa became dryer and dryer and eventually most of the forests vanished which forced the remaining animals to migrate to scattered forest islands. A lot of steppe animals migrated to Africa from Asia since the new climate suited them well. The dry climate lasted until early Pleistocene when increased precipitation made it possible for evergreen forests to reemerge, causing the formerly large grasslands to become divided and isolated from each other. Some steppe animals stayed in these isolated grasslands while others adapted to a life in the forest. The forest animals of Africa are therefore of double origin; some descending from the early forest animals and some hailing from steppe animals forced to adapt to life in the woods.

Africa is famous for its great array of really large animals, so called mega fauna. Mega fauna could once be found over a much larger part of the globe, but many of the species were hunted to extinction by humans during the Pleistocene megafauna extinction. Africa shows much less evidence of loss during this period and some scientists have suggested that it is because humans originated in Africa. African animals that evolved alongside early humans might have gotten a better chance to develop effective defenses against human hunters than large animals in other parts of the world who suddenly encountered highly-skilled human hunters without getting much of a chance to adjust.

African animals today
Africa is home to over 1100 mammal species, ranging from iconic creatures like African buffalo, lion, and rhinoceros, to less renowned dwellers like Ethipopian Highland Hare and African ground squirrel. Off the African coast you can encounter several species of dolphin and seal, and two species of Sirenians. The vast bodies of freshwater found within this continent are naturally also teaming with mammals, such as the speckle-throated otter and the prominent hippopotamus. Africa even has three endemic orders of mammals, i.e. orders that can be found nowhere else on the planet. These three orders are Afrosoricida (tenrecs and golden moles), Macroscelidea (elephant shrews), and Tubulidentata (aardvarks).

In addition to mammals, the African continent and its surrounding seas and islands are filled with birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates (including insects). Over 2600 scientifically described live in African permanently or temporary. Many bird species spend the summer raising their young in temperate regions and return to Africa in fall. Of the 589 species of birds (excluding seabirds) that raise their young in temperate parts of Europe and Asia, 40% leave before winter arrives and an overwhelming majority of these migratory birds head for Africa.   

Africa is the continent with the riches array of freshwater fish species and is home to about 3000 described species. This number grows every year, as the lakes and waterways of Africa become more thoroughly explored by ichthyologists. A lot of aquarist world wide keep African fish; especially African cichlids from the East African Great Lakes: Malawi, Tanganyika and Victoria. The relative isolation of these old rift lakes have led to an astonishing profusion of endemic fish species in each lake.

In the reptile group you will find African animals such as snakes, lizards, tortoises, turtles and of course the infamous African crocodiles. Africa is home to no less than three different crocodile species: the Nile crocodile, Slender-snouted Crocodile and Dwarf Crocodile. Examples of snakes found in Africa are the cobras, the viperines and the pythonids (Python).

When it comes to amphibians it is naturally impossible to talk about African animals without mentioning the west African Goliath frog - the largest frog species in the world.

Approximately 100 000 species of insects have been described from sub-Saharan Africa, and even more species are expected to be found as research progresses. A new family of flies was for instance described from South Africa quite recently, the Natalimyzidae. Estimates indicate that the African insects comprise 10-20 percent of the global insect species richness. The insects are an integral part of the African ecosystems but some of them can cause serious problems for humans by spreading diseases. Examples are Mosquitoes like Anopheles gambiae and Aedes aegypti as well as the Tsetse fly. The migratory locus and the desert locus can also cause serious problems when they appear, since they can devastate crop fields leaving the population starving. Naturally, insects are also beneficial for humans – they are for instance important pollinators and the caterpillars of the Mopani moth are a delicious source of protein. The Ancient Egyptians even regarded one of the African insects holy: the sacred scarab dung beetle.

If you leave land and air and venture down into the African waters you can encounter en entirely different type of invertebrates, the corals that form long and colourful reefs along the African coastline. Roughly 400 species of coral have been described from African waters. In the African lakes and waterways there are no corals but freshwater molluscs and 20 general of crabs.  


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