Jan 8

The world’s second largest continent, Africa is home to a spectacular array of wildlife and landscapes. Its outstanding diversity is spread across deserts and savannas, forests and swamps, and some of the most iconic species on earth are found there. With the launch of BBC One’s new Africa series, we thought we would explore some the most popular African species on ARKive.

1. Meerkat

Meerkats are one of the most popular African animals, due to their highly sociable and charismatic nature. Meerkat groups are usually made up of around 50 individuals, including a dominant pair and ‘helpers’ of both sexes. Meerkats demonstrate an extraordinary division of labour: when out hunting, one or more individuals keep lookout to protect the rest of the group from predators, and when young are born, non-breeding adults take turns to ‘babysit’ while the rest are out foraging.

Photo of a meerkat family group

2. Blue wildebeest

Thousands flock to Africa’s National Parks every year to see the famous blue wildebeest migration. Forming some of the largest migratory herds of all antelope species, wildebeest rely on short grass and water to survive, so must migrate between seasonal grazing sites throughout the year. Wildebeest are well known in Africa as the ‘spare-parts animal’, as they are said to look as though they are made up of several different animal parts.

Photo of blue wildebeest jumping into river during migration

3. Shoebill

The shoebill is a baffling species with a distinctively prehistoric appearance. While it shares many similarities with storks, pelicans and herons, it remains a unique species with many characteristics setting it apart from any other African bird. The shoebill resides in some of the most inaccessible wetland habitats in Africa. Usually feeding at night, it hunts by ambush, standing stock-still until its prey is near, and then snatching it from the water with its sharp, hooked beak.

Shoebill photo

4. Hippopotamus

The hippopotamus is a surprisingly speedy animal, both underwater and on land, despite the fact that a male hippopotamus can weigh as much as 3,200 kg. This, coupled with its aggressive nature, makes it one of the most dangerous African animals. Its semi-aquatic lifestyle earned the hippopotamus its name, which means ‘river horse’. Once widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, the hippopotamus is now mainly found in the East African countries, particularly Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique.

Hippopotamus photo

5. Giraffe

There are nine types of giraffe living in Africa, six of which may be genetically distinct subspecies, and the different types can be distinguished by their spot patterns. The Latin camelopardalis means ‘camel marked like leopard’, and the giraffe’s brown blotches help to camouflage it in the shade patterns created by the trees it feeds on. Giraffes are surprisingly hard to see among the trees for this reason; however, out on the plains they can be seen in their full glory. Despite its extremely long neck, the giraffe actually has the same number of neck vertebrae as most mammals, including humans.

Photo of giraffe's necking

6. Ostrich

This flightless bird is the fastest running bird in the world, reaching speeds of up to 70 km per hour. To add to this, it is also the heaviest of all living birds and has the biggest eyes of all land animals. The ostrich is an instantly recognisable bird with a long bare neck, soft smooth plumage, and prehistoric-looking feet with just two toes. The male ostrich produces a booming call which is said to sound like the roar of a lion. Ostriches are found across the majority of the African continent, and have also been introduced to southern Australia.

Photo of ostrich running

7. Plains zebra

Clearly related to horses, the plains zebra is another of Africa’s most iconic animals. Its most characteristic feature is the pattern of black and white stripes all across its body. There are many theories as to the purpose of the conspicuous black and white stripes, but one likely explanation may be a social one, with the stripes being thought to encourage group structure and grooming behaviour. Zebras are the most abundant of all Africa’s grazers, and are preyed upon by several of Africa’s large predators, such as lions and hyenas.

Group of plain's zebra

8. Eastern gorilla

Gorillas are the largest of the living apes, and have now been recognised as two separate species – the eastern and western gorillas. Eastern gorillas are found in Rwanda,Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), although one subspecies is solely restricted to eastern DRC. There are two subspecies: the mountain gorilla, occurring at altitudes between 1,160 and 4,100 metres, and the eastern lowland gorilla, which is found between 600 and 2,900 metres above sea level. Each family group of eastern gorillas is led by a dominant silverback male, and groups can sometimes be made up of more than 50 individuals.

 Eastern gorilla portrait

9. Nile crocodile

The Nile crocodile is a formidable African predator, and one of the largest of all crocodilians. To enable it to lie low in the water and ambush prey, its eyes, ears and nostrils are located on the top of the head. A valve at the back of the throat stops water from entering when the crocodile grabs prey in its jaws and holds it underwater. The Nile crocodile is capable of taking prey as large as buffalo, zebras, wildebeest and other antelopes, which it drags into the water, but the female can also be surprisingly gentle, carrying her newly hatched young to water in her mouth.

Photo of Nile crocodile

10. African rock python

As Africa’s largest snake, the ill-tempered African rock python is not to be reckoned with. It is a non-venomous snake, killing its prey by coiling around it and squeezing tighter with each breath the victim takes, until its prey dies by cardiac arrest. The African rock python can feed on animals as large as crocodiles, and is found across most of sub-Saharan Africa.

African rock python photo

These are but a few of the most well-known and fascinating animals that Africa has to offer. Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to some lesser-known species, as well as ‘the big five’, ‘the little five’ and more…watch this space!

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Nov 14

The world population of mountain gorillas has risen significantly in recent years, according to a new census released by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Photo of mountain gorilla infant

The census, carried out in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, found over 400 gorillas living in 36 distinct social groups. This brings the total world population of mountain gorillas to 880, an increase of over 10% since 2010.

According to David Greer, WWF’s African Great Apes Programme Manager, “Mountain gorillas are the only great ape experiencing a population increase. This is largely due to intensive conservation efforts and successful community engagement.”

Photo of silverback mountain gorilla resting with group

Mountain gorilla conservation is now balanced against the needs of local people, for example by tackling illegal firewood collection in gorilla habitat by providing communities with alternative energy sources.

Mountain gorillas have only survived because of conservation. Protected areas are better managed and resourced than they have ever been, and our work is a lot more cross-cutting to address threats – we don’t just work with the animals in the national parks, but also with the people,” said Drew McVey, Species Programme Manager at WWF.

Mountain gorilla silverback, portrait

Threatened subspecies

The mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, is a Critically Endangered subspecies of the eastern gorilla, the largest of the living apes. In addition to the population at Bwindi, a second mountain gorilla population is found in the Virunga Massif, a range of extinct volcanoes that spans the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

The Virunga population has also increased in the last decade, but the two populations do not interbreed and both remain under threat from deforestation, disease, regional conflict, poaching, and snares set for other animals. There is also concern that proposed oil exploration in the Virunga National Park could bring new problems for gorillas and other wildlife in an area already beset by conflict.

Photo of guard showing all the animal traps collected within two months in Virunga National Park, habitat of the mountain gorilla

Guard showing animal traps collected within two months in the Virunga National Park

More people in Virunga would likely lead to an increase in deforestation, illegal hunting and more snares in the forest,” said Greer. “At least seven Virunga mountain gorillas have been caught in snares this year and two did not survive. The gorilla population remains fragile and could easily slip into decline if conservation management was to be disregarded in the pursuit of oil money by elites.”

Tourist draw

Although the increase in gorilla numbers in recent decades is encouraging, experts say that it should not be taken as a sign that the fight to save the species has been won.

Gorilla populations are incredibly fragile and sensitive to environmental change. There are only two populations, so disease could easily wipe out an entire population,” said McVey. He added that, “Mountain gorillas are only found in protected areas, and outside these areas there are more than 600 people per square kilometre, so there is immense pressure to secure their habitat and pay their way.”

Photo of juvenile mountain gorilla

Many mountain gorilla groups have become accustomed to humans and are a major draw for tourists. Revenue from tourism is in turn helping to fund the protection of parks and is being reinvested into local communities.

The amount of revenue and jobs that gorillas generate is so important for these areas that are so desperately poor,” McVey said. “People really see gorillas as important for the national and local economies, and a portion of this goes back to conservation efforts and the local community.”

Read more on this story at WWF – Mountain gorilla population grows and The Guardian – Mountain gorilla numbers rise by 10%.

Find out more about gorilla conservation at the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.

View photos and videos of mountain gorillas on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jan 12

Mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, plant, coral, insect…the choices are never ending, but will this week’s team member choose a gentle giant like Laura Sutherland or opt for a slightly less substantial species?

George Bradford – ARKive Media Researcher

Favourite Species: Honey badger

Why? I admire the resourcefulness of the honey badger that allows it to exist over a large range and variety of habitats from savannah to rainforest. It can make a meal out of venomous snakes, small mammals and even roots and berries. It has been reported that the honey badger uses its anal gland to fumigate bee hives so it can access the larvae within. That’s street smart.

Favourite honey badger image on ARKive:

Honey badger image

Honey badger with python kill

 

The honey badger is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List. Its threats include being trapped and snared by poachers and small livestock farmers as well as bee farmers. Its claws are used in traditional medicine to confer the patient with the fearlessness and ferocity characteristic of this species.

See more photos of the honey badger.

Jan 5

Like rabbits retreating into their burrows, heads began disappearing underneath desks in the ARKive office as I made a beeline for the next ARKive team mate to pick their favourite species. Will this week’s favourite species be another ferocious feline like it was for Rebecca Sennett, or something slightly more serpentine?

Laura Sutherland – ARKive Education Officer

Favourite Species: African elephant

Why? While I was at University I spent a summer volunteering on a conservation project based in Botswana. Much of our time was spent monitoring the local elephant population, which is where I developed a soft spot for this enormous mammal. Their social structure is based around the ties within family groups; each group is led by an old female known as the ‘matriarch’. They have an amazing capacity to communicate over vast distances using infrasound and are able to recognise other individuals from their vocalisations.

Favourite elephant image on ARKive:

Photo of an African elephant

African elephant calf flapping ears

The African elephant is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, with threats such as hunting for their ivory tusks, which are actually modified incisors, and conflict with farmers due to habitat fragmentation, posing considerable risks to their continued survival.

See more pictures and videos of the African elephant.

Dec 29

With no one wanting to be a copycat and the number of species to choose from on ARKive gradually getting lower (5 have been selected out of the 14,195 species on ARKive!) the pressure is really beginning to show. Will this week’s team member go for a cuddly critter like Hannah Mulvany or a more beastly being?

Rebecca Sennett – ARKive Media Researcher

Favourite species: African leopard

Why? The African leopard has always been my favourite species mainly because of its exceptional beauty and the fact that it is so elusive. I will never forget how I felt whilst on safari, watching two leopards drag an impala kill up onto the branch of an acacia tree, just as the sun went down below the horizon – a breathtaking and rare sight. The African leopard is a fearsome predator, combining opportunism, stealth and speed. Its distinctive, spotted coat provides excellent camouflage and enables the leopard to conceal itself in the undergrowth. With acute vision and hearing, the leopard is able move slowly and silently, frequently stalking to within metres of its prey without being detected!

Favourite image on ARKive?

Photo of an African leopard

Female African leopard grooming cub

The leopard is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List, with threats to the African population including habitat conversion for agriculture, hunting for teeth and fur and human persecution due to this species attacking livestock.

See more photos and videos of the leopard.

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