Earnest Hemingway wrote: ‘There can be no greater sight than that of a full-maned lion on the plains of Africa’, and yes this is indeed a magnificent image, but Africa has far more than these scenes occurring daily. Renowned for its unrivalled imagery and drama the African wildlife and wilderness will never fail to inspire those who embrace it.
Range and species diversity
The diverse regions of the African continent, from ancient deserts to pristine swamps and from rolling savannas to mist-shrouded mountains, provide for a vast array of wildlife. In many cases animals of the same species are found in all the various habitats – with only a differentiation in their habits. Interestingly lion are one of the most adaptable creatures, being found in swamps and desert where they adapt easily to the environment.
Creatures of the drier reaches adapt by restricting water loss in a number of ways. As water is scarce they will sometimes not drink water for a whole season, instead getting their liquid needs from the foods they eat. The feaceas of desert animals is very dry and carries a lot of salt.
Animals of the swamp areas adapt through physiological means. Antelope hooves will be elongated for easier movement, for example the sitatunga, and other animals may have developed forequarters due to moving through water constantly. Lions of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, for example, are larger in the chest than in other wilderness areas in Africa. This is due to them spending a great deal of time in the water – a fact that undermines the idea that lions do not like water.
Habitat and habits of African wildlife
Many animal species adapt to specific habitats, e.g. water, desert or mountains, but there are a number that are able to survive in a number of extremely varying habitats. Some of the better known of Africa’s large mammals such as lions, elephants and leopards are found in habitats ranging from very arid to marshes and swamps.
The Namib Desert in Namibia is seemingly one of the most hostile places on earth and yet it is home to numerous species including elephants and lions. These species have adapted to living under the extreme conditions where there is very little surface water available. Lions and elephants are also found in most of the swamp areas of Africa where their behavior differs quite radically from the bahaviour of the individuals in the desert regions.
There are many examples of same species variation in the wilderness areas of Africa – even within the same areas. Individuals or groups will show differing behavior to other individuals or groups in neighbouring territories. The hunting habits of predators such as lions, leopards and hyenas may vary considerably in the choice of prey species. Larger prides of lions and packs of hyenas will take down larger prey – more members of a group allow for greater strength in numbers but also a need for more food to feed the group.
Threats to African wildlife
The greatest threat to the wildlife of Africa has come from human interference in the form of clearing animal habitats for agriculture, mass hunting and poaching for animal products such as skins, ivory and rhino horn.
The human population in Africa today is growing at a rapid rate and space is needed for this growing population – and the parks and reserves are being targeted. Many people living on the peripheries of the reserves feel that the reserves are the preserve of the elite and that they are not benefitting from the reserves – and this is causing conflict. Move are afoot however to rectify the issues of conflict by bringing locals into the tourism setup.