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Facts about Africa: Discover the lure of the dark continent*



 

Facts about Africa: Introduction

Known as the dark continent*, Africa’s undiscovered and unmapped lands have long lured adventurers and explorers alike. Explorers such as Henry Stanley, David Livingston, Richard Burton and John Speke had a common desire: to go where no** man has gone before. Despite being mapped and ‘officially discovered’, Africa retains its captivating charms***. A continent where adventure is a birthright, Africa offers everyone a lifetime’s worth of dreams.

From watching one the most dramatic wildlife shows on earth as herds of wildebeest and zebras migrate across the acacia-dotted plains of the Serengeti, to tracking lowland gorillas in the Bwindi impenetrable forest, Africa is a nature lover’s fantasy.

However, Africa is more than just the popular images of awe-inspiring wildlife on a vast savannah. The land of the Sahara offers incredibly vast and diverse landscapes, thousands of different tribes, cultures and dialects, and a character etched by war, famine and disease as much as it is by its beauty human resilience, and indefatigable spirit.

*A romantic name for Africa - which was largely unknown and unexplored by Europeans in the 19th century.

**European - Africa was explored by many men, just not white Europeans.

***Africa is unknown only to those who don't live there and the term "officially discovered" refers only to the fact that it was mapped.

acacia tree namibia

© Christopher List Photography

Join me on a journey of discovery with some of the most compelling facts about Africa; this wonderful, vast and mysterious continent that gives so much, yet demands so little in return. Discover:

Facts about Africa: Geographical
Facts about Africa: People
Facts about Africa: Travel
Facts about Africa: Wildlife
Facts about Africa: Economy

What's more, Facts about Africa will consistently be updated with new information and stunning images by Christopher List on our journey through this vast and mysterious land.

Facts about Africa: Geographical

  • The world's second-largest continent after Asia, Africa is attached to Asia at its northeast Sinai corner by the 70-km wide Suez Canal.
  • Africa is bordered in the north by The Mediterranean Sea, in the east by the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and in the west by the Atlantic Ocean.

  • There are 54 countries in Africa according to the UN, and a couple of disputed territories (Western Sahara, Somaliland and Sahrawi Republic). Of these, 48 states are on the continent itself, while six are island nations.
  • Sudan is the largest country by area, with South Sudan Africa's newest country since achieving its independence on July 9, 2011.
  • The smallest country in Africa is the Seychelles, is 453 square kilometres, but Gambia is the smallest of the African states on the mainland, with an area of 11,300 square kilometres.
  • The most centrally-located of all the continents, Africa is divided into North and South by the equator (0 degrees latitude), while the prime meridian (0 degrees longitude) cuts through the West Coast of Africa.
  • Africa is also the most tropical of the continents, straddling the equator and home to both the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer. 
  • The Continent has many environments, ranging from the most barren desert wastes to tropical rain forest, savannas to huge swamps, majestic snow-capped mountains to stunning beaches. 

beautiful beach cape town

© Christopher List Photography
  • Africa is the same length as its width. It measures approximately 7,500 km from South to North as well as from East to West.
  • The Sahara desert (the largest expanse of dry land in the world) is over 10.4 million square kilometres and expands southwards at roughly 0.8 km a month.
  • The highest mountain in Africa is Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, a dormant volcano
  • The northernmost point in Africa is Ras ben Sakka in Tunisia, while the continents southernmost point is Cape Agulhas in South Africa.
  • The largest lake in Africa and the world's second largest fresh water lake is Lake Victoria which covers an area of 69,490 square kilometres.
  • The Nile is the longest river in the world, at 6,670 km long it winds from Uganda to Ethiopia, flowing through a total of nine countries. While it's commonly associated with Egypt, the Nile River touches Ethiopia, Zaire, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Sudan, as well as Egypt. 
  • Africa is home to six of the world's driest places: Algeria's Aoelef has only 12.19mm rainfall per year, Pelican Point in Namibia with only 8.13mm rainfall, Wadi Halfa in Sudan with 2.54 mm, Luxor in Egypt with 0.862 mm, Awan in Egypt with recorded rainfall of 0.861 and lastly Al'Kufrah in Libya, with the lowest rainfall at 0.86 mm a year.
  • The second hottest place in the world (with Iran's Dasht-e Lut or Lut desert taking first place) is recorded at Al'Aziziyah in Libya with temperatures in September (its hottest month) often reaching 58 degrees Celsius.
  • The Namib Desert is the world's oldest, and the only desert in Africa where you can find elephant, lions, giraffes and rhinos.

Dune in Namib desert

© Christopher List Photography
  • Central Africa is home to the Congo Basin, the second largest rainforest in the world. Running through six African countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Congo and Zaire), the Congo Basin covers over 1,000,000 square miles.
  •  Africa is the richest continent in terms of natural resources. It has 50 percent of the world's gold, most of the world's diamonds and chromium, 90 percent of the cobalt, 40 percent of the world's potential hydroelectric power, 65 percent of the manganese, and millions of acres of underused farmland, as well as other natural resources.
  • Nambia's fish river canyon is the second-largest in the world.

    Facts about Africa: People

    • Africa's largest city is Cairo, the capital of Egypt, which has an impressive 11 million people, but is projected to be overtaken by Nigeria's Lagos with 12.5 million by 2015. Overall, Africa's urban population is set to triple according to UN-Habitat, a United Nations agency in Nairobi which monitors the world's built environment.

    • Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from some of the worst literacy rates in the world, with more than one in three adults unable to read. 47 million youths (aged 15-24 are illiterate), while 21 million adolescents and 32 million primary aged children are not in school.

    • With over one billion people, the population of Africa is expected more than double to 2.3 billion in 40 years. Meanwhile, Nigeria's population of over 160 million makes it easily the most populated country in Africa, closely followed by (from highest to lowest) Ethiopia, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa. What's more, roughly 41% of all Africans are under the age of 15.

    • An estimated 2,000 languages and dialects are spoken in Africa with Arabic (in various dialects) being the most widely spoken, with around 170 million speakers primarily residing in North Africa.

    • There are an estimated 3,000 tribes in Africa. Though figures differ, Nigeria alone has at least 250 tribes and as many as 400.

    • Africa is the only continent where you have a roughly equal division of the two largest religions in the world. According to the World Religion Database, 48 percent of Africa’s 1 billion inhabitants are Christian (495.8 million); 41 percent are Muslim (423.5 million) and 11 percent are “other” or unaffiliated. Traditional religion, sometimes called Animism, is still practiced by many Africans.

    • Arabic (in various dialects) is the most common language spoken in Africa with about 170 million speakers, primarily residing in North Africa. In the continent as a whole, there are over 2,000 recognised languages spoken.

    • Among the native population of Africa, there are more physical variations than on any other continent in the world.

    • Eighteen people from Africa have been awarded a Nobel Prize. The latest Nobel Peace Prize winners include two African women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia.

    • With more than 50 unique tribes living in the remote Omo River Region of Ethiopia, traditional customs and beliefs remain virtually unchanged. 

    • 98% of Egypt’s population have their roots in Egypt, making it incredibly homogenous.

    • Libya’s people are of Arab or Berber origin, who became known as the nomadic people of Tuareg. All Tuareg claim to be descended from a remarkably fertile woman named Lemtuna, the same ancestress as claimed by the Berbers of Ghadames.

    • One third of all Morroccan people are under 15.

    • Today, more Cape Verdens live abroad than in Cape Verde itself.

    • In Cote d’lvoire, the Dead Chicken Dance became the biggest dance craze shortly after the discovery of the bird flu.

    • The people of Mali became famed for their music which draws on ancient Malian myths from the Griot, a powerful hereditary caste of musicians who once served as praise-singers and storytellers to the kings of old.

    • One of the most densely populated countries in West Africa, Ghana is also considered the most welcoming country. Artisans in Teshie build coffins according to the occupation of their endless residents: guns for soldiers, books for writers, lobsters for fisherman and so on.

    • With some 40 ethnic groups, Togo’s patchwork population includes the Tamberma -famous for their fortified compounds of wet clay and straw.

    • In Benin, where voodoo is rife amongst the people, twins are revered.

    • The people of Niger valued an ounce of salt as much as an ounce of gold in the markets of old.

    • Every fifth African is a Nigerian and if a 2005 survey is to believed, they are the “happiest people on earth”. Film is much-loved in Nigeria, where the film industry - Nollywood - is the third-biggest in the world.

    • In Rhumsiki, Nigeria, local witchdoctors tell fortunes using a bucket of crabs.

    • The forest-dwelling Pygmies were first to arrive in Gabon, however much of the land was taken by Bantu tribes with the Fang being the most numerous in Gabon.

    • Though in many African tribes music is reserved for men, the Central African Republics' BaAka believe everyone is a musician.

    • Over 100 languages are spoken in Sudan, where tribes revere cattle as a source of wealth. Young boys live in cattle camps and tend to the herd and will even decorate and sing to their favoured cow.

    • East Africa’s most widespread language is Swahili.

    • The Christianity practiced by Ethiopians is often considered the closest to the type practiced in Jesus’ era. Ceremonies involve drums and worship takes place in rock-hewn churches.

    • Djibouti’s Afar nomads still file their front teeth into fearsome-looking sharp points.

    • Eritrea’s stylish teenagers have gums tattooed dark blue, which is supposed to make the teeth look whiter. To do this, the gums are pricked until they bleed after which they are rubbed with charcoal.

    • Kenya’s well-known tribe, the proud and fierce Maasai Mara are cattle and goat herders who live on meat, milk and even blood. Perhaps most famous for their warrior dance, young Maasai morani (warrior-youth) leap into the air from a standing position in order to demonstrate their strength and agility.

    • Ethiopia’s most widely spoken language is Amharic, though most people speak more than one language.

    • With a kaleidoscope of tribes, Uganda’s people are remarkably positive and eloquent, making for keen debates.

    • Rwanda consists of Hutu and Tutsis and less than one percent of Twa Pygmy. Tiny as it is Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, with more than 300 people per square kilometer.

    • Known for its hospitality and large extended families, Tanzania’s people have a harmonious outlook. Children are very respectful to their elders, while visitors are acknowledged as family members: dada (sister), mama (older woman), kaka (brother) or ndugu (relative or comrade).

    • Most Seychellois believe in witchcraft -the witchdoctors usefetish objects called gris-gris to either ward off or summon spirits.

    • Madagasy (people of Madagascar) have a ‘turning of the bones’ ceremony which consists of a funeral ritual and party. The deceased are exhumed, cleaned and dressed in fresh shrouds, spoken to and even danced with by their descendants before being placed back in the grave with gifts for the afterlife.

    • Mozambique’s Lomwe-Makua people require an exchange of services for a man to prove he can work before they will agree to an engagement.

    • Before 1944, women in Malawi were unable to wear trousers, while men were forbidden to have long hair.

    • Zambia’s people enjoy an abundance of space -they enjoy one of the lowest population densities in the world with only 14 people per square kilometre.

    • English remains scarcely-spoken in Angola, where tourists have to learn Portuguese if they want to find out any information.

    • Himba women of Namibia have a distinctive appearance -covering themselves with a butter fat, red ochre and local herb combination that gives their body the smooth, reddish appearance the Himba find attractive, and protects them from the harsh desert sun.

    • One in three Zimbabwean children are orphans, but despite the political turmoil and economic crisis, 90% of them are cared for by extended family.

    • The San or Bushmen, a hunter-gatherer tribe, are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20,000 years in the vast expanse of the Kalahari desert. The San are known for the distinctive clicks in their language, which use five click sounds in total, but a different position of the tongue and way in which the air is released results in different sounds.

    • The Basotho of Lesotho live in traditional huts with mud walls and thatched roofs, called rondavals or mokhoro. These are also found in Swaziland, South Africa, Botswana and others.

    Facts about Africa: Travel

    • Egypt is the most popular tourist destination in Africa, attracting around 10 million visitors per year.

    • While Egypt is most well known for its pyramids, the Republic of Sudan actually has 223 of its own pyramids, double the number of pyramids in Egypt. Smaller and steeper than their Egyptian counterparts, the pyramids of Sudan are not nearly as famous.

    • Mogadishu in Somalia, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Brazzaville , Congo vie for the title of the world's most dangerous city.

    • Cape Town is one of the world's most beautiful cities, according to Forbes and to the Trip Advisor Travellers Choice Awards, which ranked it the best tourist destination in 2011.

    view of table mountain


    • From working on organic farms to digging water wells, teaching at schools or becoming a ranger, Africa offers boundless opportunities to potential volunteers.

    • Djibouti's Lake Assal is Africa's lowest geographical point at 155 m below sea level, is ten times saltier than the ocean and is the most saline body of water in the world.

    • Niger's Ingall is a town with a year-round population of less than 500, except during it's popular Cure Salee festival, when nomadic Tuareg and Wodaabe pastoralists gather to celebrate the end of the rainy season. During the festival, InGall's population grows to several thousand nomads, officials, and tourists.

    • Mali’s Djenne turns into an island at the end of the rainy season, attracting tourists who marvel at one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest cities

    • Loanga National Park in Gabon, known as Africa’s “Last Eden”, is the only place in Africa where you can see whales, chimps, gorillas and elephants in one park, making it a popular eco-tourist destination. You can also enjoy the wildlife against different backdrops, including the beach, savannah, swamp and forest, all in one day.

    • A large area of mangrove forests, islands, lagoons and rivers, the Sine-Saloum Delta lies in southwest Senegal. You can stay in a baobab tree house, or adventure deep into the mangroves to discover a hidden eco-lodge managed by the local community: Keur Bamboung.

    • Anse Lazio beach, on the island of Praslin in the Seychelles is regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches and is a top honeymoon destination. It’s also tragically the site of two deadly shark attacks in 2011, the first since 1963.

    • The Serengeti migration is one of the top travel wonders of Africa. Over two million herbivores including wildebeest, buffaloes and zebras travel from the northern plains toward to southern plains in pursuit of the rains, covering some 800 kilometers. The migration is chronicled in the 1994 documentary - Africa, the Serengeti. 

    • Mopane Worms, the green and blue spiky caterpillars of the nocturnal Emperor Moth are a popular delicacy in many countries in Africa. Its innards are squeezed out, head plucked off and it’s then dried before being sold throughout the region.

    • Apart from being the cheapest place in the world to get your PADI open water diving certificate, Lake Malawi is also one of the most beautiful places to dive. Its waters are teeming with several hundred endemic fish species, reportedly more than any other freshwater body on Earth.

    © Christopher List Photography
    • Namibia’s Sossuvlei has some of the highest and most beautiful dunes in the world. Adrenaline junkies can sandboard down the dunes to reach speeds of up to 80 km/hr.

    • The “evil eye” is an envious or hateful look that is superstitiously believed by many (particularly in North Africa) to cause injury or back luck on the person it is directed at. The decorative Khimmsa or Hamsa, is an amulet worn around the neck or hung near the door for protection from the envious.  In Morocco, it is common for men to decorate the back of their coats with red eyes to cast off the evil eye’s gaze.

    • No trip to Africa would be complete without seeing the majestic Victoria Falls. Known as the “Smoke that thunders”, at 1708 metres wide Victoria Falls is the largest curtain of water in the world. It falls between 90m and 107m into the Zambezi Gorge and an average of 550,000 cubic metres of water plummet over the edge every minute.

    • The capital and largest city of Sierra Leone, Freetown was once the Province of Freedom, founded by freed slaves in the 1790s. Legend has it that the 200-year old cotton tree in the centre of Freetown holds historic importance. The settlers landed and held a thanksgiving service around this great tree, gathering around it to pray and sing hymns in gratitude for their deliverance to freedom.

    • Often called ‘Africa’s Eden’ and the ’8th Natural Wonder of the World,’ the Ngorongoro Crater is the largest intact caldera in the world, formed 3 million years ago when a giant volcano collapsed as the magma beneath it exploded. The crater rim is a wildlife haven, with herds of zebra and wildebeest grazing while lethargic lions doze in the sun. It’s also home to the endangered black rhino.

    • The Sahara Desert is the world’s largest non-polar desert, and one of the hottest places on earth. It is believed that people have inhabited the Sahara Desert since 6000 BCE and earlier. It stretches across Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia and contains 25% sand dunes as well as mountain ranges, many of which are volcanic.

    • The remote Omo River Region of Southwestern Ethiopia offers great white water rafting. By far the biggest draw, its inaccessibility means the traditional customs and beliefs of the more than 50 tribes that live there remain very much intact.

    • Affectionately known as ‘the longest train in the world”, the Nouadhibu to Zouerate train in Mauritania is 1.8 miles long (3 km). The trip takes 12 hours, covers about 430 miles (700 km) and passenger cars have finally been added to the freight cars, so you no longer have to sit on the roof or inside the iron ore carriages.

    • If you pass through Mauritania, Africa, don’t forget to take a ride on what is probably the world’s longest train, measuring around 3 km long (1.8 miles) depending on cargo load. The trip takes 12 hours, covers around 700 km (430 miles) and they’ve now added passenger cars, so the less adventurous don’t have to sit on the roof or on top of a cargo load of iron ore.

    • The dramatic 95-mile long Bandiagara Escarpment in Mali, West Africa, which has been inhabited since 3rd century B.C. is well worth a visit. Inhabited by the Dogon people, the escarpment is home to their traditional dwellings, literally carved out of the cliffs. Made of earth-brick and thatch, the Dogon’s homes are high up on the cliffs for protection, and take advantage of cooler air.

    • Lalibela, in Ethiopia’s central highlands is home to one an amazing cultural and religious sites: eleven rock-hewn churches, each carved entirely out of a single block of granite with its roof at ground level.  An exceptionally fine example of Ethiopian building traditions, the churches arethought to have been built during the 12th and 13th centuries. Lalibela remains an important site for pilgrims and tourists keen to see this cultural wonder.

    • One of the great geographical mysteries of the Victorian Age, finding the source of the great Nile inspired many explorers, including David Livingstone who died trying to find it. Though known by the natives of Buganda and Busoga kingdoms, the first European to ‘find’ the Nile’s source in Jinja, Uganda was John Speke. Originated from Lake Victoria, the Nile is about 6400 km long and world civilisation is reputed to have begun on its banks.

    • With its political uncertainty, massive inflation and high crime rates, Zimbabwe’s economy seems on the mend, however don’t bother changing your dollars. The Zim dollar is no longer accepted as currency in Zimbabwe, so stick to American.

    • South Africa’s Garden Route is a gorgeous stretch of coastal paradise conveniently set near the N2. You can enjoy some of the best whale watching by boat, wildlife and forests, national parks and reserves. There’s even the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe, which travels 52 km down the Garden Route with spectacular views of the Indian Ocean.

    East Londonach Bonza Bay

    © Christopher List Photography
    • You can enjoy a cultural safari in South Africa, learning how to camp in the bush with minimal impact,and connecting with nature and the tribal people of the Limpopo province. Renowned for their intense spirituality and reverence of artists, the Venda were one of the last black tribes to migrate south of the Limpopo River. Finding a beautiful, lush area in South Africa, they promptly named it Venda (pleasant place) and settled there.

    • Libya’s Leptis Manga is one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the world. A UNECSO World Heritage site, you can scramble over the Letpis Manga’s endless ruins at leisure without being distracted by herds of tourists (it’s notoriously hard to get into Libya).
    • Travellers with a large budget can take a trip on the most luxurious train in the world. With wood-panelled coaches, air conditioned suites, the train takes guests through the tip of Africa, to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, from Kruger National Park to the Victoria Falls, from the desert landscapes in Namibia and the stark beauty of the Karoo to the lush cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal and the magnificent Garden Route along the Cape south coast.

    • Kolmanskop is a ghost town near Luderitz, Namibia, fighting a losing battle against the sand of the Namib desert. Once a prosperous town built around the mining of diamonds; when diamonds were discovered further south, its German residents abandoned their homes in search of better prospects.

     

    Kolmanskopp, Namibia

    Kolmanskopp, Namibia

    © Christopher List Photography
    • The Kanga is a popular fashion item in east Africa, worn by men and women alike. A large, colourfully printed cotton cloth, the kanga is used as a garment, head cover, tablecloth or wall hanging. The kanga has a Swahili proverb printed along the bottom, and today has become a medium for political, social and religious expression - making it an integral part of East African culture. As the saying goes, “the kanga struts in style...wear it with a smile”.

    • In Tunisia, images of fish are often used to protect against evil. Buildings are often constructed with bones or tails embedded for protection, or painted with fish images, while cars often have colourful plastic or fish cloth dangling inside.

    • Sudan borders nine countries: Egypt, Libya, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Eritrea. Access into Sudan is notoriously difficult, but with its recent split into two countries, this situation may resolve. Tourists agree that the people of Sudan are famously hospitable, and this country offers many hidden attractions, including the archaeological sites of Khartoum, the coast of the Red Sea with virtually undisturbed coral reefs, Dinder National Park -one of the largest in the world and Jebel Marra’s volcanic lakes, waterfalls and resorts.

    Facts about Africa: Wildlife

    The big 5:

    The King of the Jungle: The African Lion

    Though known as the "King of the Jungle", African lions are quite lazy. Their reputation for hunting prowess is because they hunt in groups - a lion cannot chase it's prey for long distances.

    In fact, lionesses do most of the work -because of their large size, African lions are easily spotted, making them less successful hunters than lionesses.

    The canny African Buffalo:

    The African Cape buffalo is a popular trophy kill, given that they are difficult to hunt, with a reputation for circling back on their pursuers and counter attacking.

    However, they can teach humans a thing or two about social interaction -African Buffalo live in large, mixed herds of up to 2000 members. Members of the same subgroup stay in close contact and will often sleep with their heads resting against one another.

    Africa's majestic elephants:

    Africa is home to the world's largest living land animal, the African elephant, which can weigh between 6 and 7 tons. Elephants communicate by touch, sight, scent and sound. Alarm and aggression is signified by trumpeting, while groups keep in contact with loud, very low frequency calls, which can carry for up two kilometres or more.

    african elephant

    With voracious appetites, elephants can spend up to twenty-three hours a day eating. Elephants are incredibly peaceful animals when not threatened, and share similarities with humans in how they treat their dead - they bury them under tree branches and mourn them for weeks, frequently visiting their grave.

    The elusive leopard:

    Hunting mostly at night, leopards are nocturnal. They spend the day resting on tree branches, making them one of the hardest of the Big 5 to spot. After a kill, leopards will drag their dead prey up the tree, away from stronger predators like hyena's and lions, so they can eat it in peace.

    The endangered rhino:

    There are two rhino species found in Africa: the white rhino and the black rhino.

    The white rhino has a broad square-lipped mouth while the black rhino's mouth is more pointed, almost triangular. The black rhino has recently been declared extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, while the white rhino could already be extinct in the wild or at the very least, critically endangered.

    Due to their size, rhino's have no other predators apart from man, who has virtually decimated their population due to poaching. The rhino horn is actually made from compacted hair (not bone) and is so much in demand for its supposed medicinal properties (particularly in China) that it is twice as expensive as gold.


    The symbolic eland:

    The largest of all the antelope, the eland weighs up to 680 kg but can easily jump up to 2 metres. The animal most often depicted in the early rock art of East Africa, the eland remains an important part of the mythology of some southern African tribes.

    The incredible giraffe:

    Though giraffes can gallop at up to 56 km/hr, they can hardly jump at all with the highest recorded clearing being 1 metre. Born at 2m (6 feet) tall, they develop into the world's tallest animal with their horn tops reaching up to 6 metres (18 feet) above ground level.

    giraffe

    Despite its astonishing length, the neck of a giraffe has only seven vertebrae, the same number as in the human neck.

    Fastest land animals:

    Four of the five fastest land animals live in Africa - the cheetah which can reach speeds of 100-120 km/hr (70mph), the wildebeest, lion, and Thomson's gazelle, all of whom reach about 80 km/hr (50 mph).

    The speedy ostrich

    The world's largest and fastest running bird, the ostrich also lays the largest eggs. in most cases ostriches are able to outrun their pursuer, reaching speeds of up to 70 km/hr (43.5 mph) and sustaining speeds of 50 km/hr (31 mph) for as long as 30 minutes. 

    Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. At the first sign of toruble, ostriches will lie low and press their long necks to the sand in order to become less visible. From a distance it appears as if they have buried their heads in the sand.

    The agile hippo:

    Weighing in at around 1500 kg's, hippos are surprisingly agile and can reach a top speed of 40 km/hr on land. They're also considered one of the most dangerous animals but are only threatened by other hippo's and man.

    A hippopotamus is born underwater, one of the few mammals that give birth underwater. Hippos are too heavy to float, however. They typically move through the water by walking along the bottom of the river.

    Interestingly, the hippo creates it's own natural sun screen, through the secretion of a viscous red fluid which protects it and is believed to work as a healing agent. The hippo's flat, paddle-like tail is also used to spread it's excrement, which marks it's territory and shows its status.

    The biggest frog:

    The Goliath Frog is the world's biggest frog. Found in Cameroon along fast-moving rivers that run thorugh the rainforest, the Goliath's body can be one-foot long.

    Not only is the Goliath frog losing its habitat to ranchers and farmers, but because of it's size it is popular with zoos and animal collectors. They are on the endangered species list.

    The feisty bushbuck:

    A forest-dwelling antelope, the bushbuck has an unusual coat, feisty temper and strange gait. If cornered a male bushbuck will fight bravely, while if attacked it may become a dangerous adversary.

    bushbuck

    The bushbuck's hunched-up gait makes it a slow and clumsy runner, but it can jump 6-foot-high. Bushbuck are also known to keep close to baboons and monkeys who drop fruit from the trees, unintentionally giving them a tasty snack!

    The forest giraffe:

    The Okapi is a strange-looking giraffe-like mammal found in the dense rainforests of the upper Congo River Basin in central Africa. This nocturnal animal was only discovered by scientists in the early 1900's, and remains one of the hardest to see in Africa because of its imprenetrable habitat.

    Few of this mysterious and elusive creature remain, it is threatened by the destruction of the rainforest, as well as hunting for what is known as the "bushmeat" trade (increasingly popular in cities).

    The braying African Penguin:

    African penguins are also known as jackass penguins, because they make a 
    sound that is similar to a donkey's bray. Penguins have been around since around the end of the time of the dinosaurs, roughly 65 million years.

    African penguin flaps wings

     

    African penguins can be found on 27 sites, most on inshore islands of which the best known is Cape Town's Robben Island. Only three are on mainland sites with the most remarkable being Boulders Beach in Simons Town.

    The vanishing African wild dogs:

    African wild dogs are among the most efficient hunters in Africa. Highly intelligent and social animals, the wild dog plays an important role in eliminating sick and weak animals, thus maintaining the natural balance.

    However their need for wide, open spaces is one of the factors that make them one of the most endangered species in Africa.

    The distinctive lemur:

    Almost 100 species of lemurs are found in Madagascar. These primates display incredibly interesting behaviour and are very vocal - making sounds that range from grunts and swears ( a characteristic of brown lemurs and sifaka) to bird-like chirps (mouse lemurs) to the eerie, wailing call of the indri, which has been called a cross between a police siren and the song of a humpback whale!

    The earth pig:

    The name aardvark comes from a word meaning "earth pig." Endemic to South Africa, the aardvark shares similarities with the South American anteater, though the two are not related.

    Primarily nocturnal, the aardvark is rarely seen, though evidence of their work is abundant - aardvark use their powerful claws to dismantle termite mounds, which provide most of the animal's food. Surprisingly, the aardvark has fewer teeth than most mammals. The teeth are columnar in shape, have no roots and do not grow simultaneously.

    Fabulous fynbos:

    Fynbos (literal translation: fine bush) has more diversity of species than a tropical rainforest. South Africa has an incredible 9000 species of fynbos, of which 6200 are found nowhere else in the world.

    fynbos fynbos

     

    Fresh-water sardines:

    The only place in the world where you can find schools of fresh water sardines is Lake Tanganyika. This sardines are the mainstay of some 10 million people in neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo - four of the poorest countries on Earth.

    However, a study found that the temperature of Lake Tanganyika is rising - at 26 degrees centigrade in 2010, it was the warmest it's been a millenium in a half. And with overfishing and an increasingly hot ecosystem, these little fish don't have much of a chance.

    The hungry crocodile:

    It's unknown how many people crocodiles have killed in Africa, their bodies are usually never found. The Nile crocodile is the world's largest-living reptile -growing to an average length of five metres (15 feet).

    The menacing mosquito:

    The mosquito has been around for over 30 million years. One of the most dangerous creatures in Africa, it's responsible for spreading malaria, dengue and other diseases.

    The scaly anteater:

    Three types of pangolins exist in Africa—the giant pangolin, the tree pangolin and the most widespread, the ground pangolin. Probably one of the strangest-looking animals out there, Pangolins are covered in scales which resemble a protective armour.

    When threatened or stressed, the pangolin rolls itself into a tight ball to defend itself. Predators generally stay far away - the pangolin's armour-plated scales protects it by inflicting serious wound on anything inserted between them. Pangolins also have anal scent glands that emit strong, foul-smelling secretions.

    Africa's wild horses:

    There are very few wild horses remaining in the world, yet Namibia's Klein Aus is where these gorgeous creatures still roam freely. Known as the feral horses of Namibia, they are unique in the sense that they have been isolated for a number of generations and managed to survive in harsh climatic conditions.

    Wild horses of Namibia

    © Christopher List Photography

    The colourful chameleon:

    The chameleon has a group of patterns and colours that it is able to display; some of which are designed for camoflauge. Its skin colour changes depending on the lizard's mood, such as fear or anger, the amount of light, and the temperature or humidity.

    Communication is another important reason for these colour changes. With colour, chameleons can communicate with others, expressing attitudes such as their willingness to mate.

    Madagascar is home to the world's largest and smallest chameleons. Almost half of all the world's chameleon species live on the island of Madagascar.

    African seals under threat:

    The largest seal colony in the Southern Hemisphere is Cape Cross in Namibia. Every year, thousands of seals are inhumanely slaughtered for their pelts for as little as four pounds each, while a recent study by Economists at Large has concluded that seal watching is worth 300% more.

    The striped zebra:

    Each zebra has its own individual striping pattern, which helps them identify each other. The stripes also break up the outline of the body making them look indistinct at dawn or in the evening - when their predators are most active. Their shiny coats also help dissipate over 70% of incoming heat.

    Interestingly, zebra's have a fascination with stripes -black and white stripes on a wall will attract them in groups.

    The intelligent gorilla:

    The gorilla is the largest of the living primates, with males weighing up to 200kg, yet are shy and retiring. Like most animals in Africa, because of loss of habitat, these massive primates are in great danger of going extinct.

    Africa's largest beetle:

    The world's largest and heaviest beetle is the Goliath Beetle, which can be found in tropical Africa. It can reach a length of 12.5 cm (5 inches) and weighs up to 225 g (1/4 lb).

    Birds of Africa in a changing climate:

    Africa has some of the world's richest birdlife, with almost all the species of birds on the continent. However, it's impossible to know the total number of birds on the continent, as the numbers fluctuate within a year due to migratory birds.

    bird behind reeds

    Hundreds of species are being forced to move by shrinking habitats and dwindling food supplies, setting off in search of better conditions elsewhere in Africa.

    Africa's smallest butterfly:

    With a wingspan of only half an inch, the smallest butterfly in Africa is the Dwarf blue butterfly.

    The peculiar spring hare:

    Looking something like a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit, the weird-looking spring hare has caused scientists much confusion. It was once grouped with jerboas (jumping rodents), then with porcupines, then with scaly-tailed squirrels, until finally it was allotted its own family.

    With keen sight, scent and hearing, it is reported to be able to pick up the slightest vibrations coming through the earth. Generally silent animals, the spring hare will grunt when excited or make a bleating noise when in danger.

    Groups of animals:

    Not all groups of animals are called the same thing, eg: A group of elephants is called a parade, while a group of giraffes is called a tower. A group of gorillas is called a band and a group of hippos is called a bloat. A group of hyenas is called a cackle and a group of tigers is called an ambush or a streak. A group of rhinos is called a crash and aptly enough, a group of zebras is called a crossing.

    Conservation of African wildlife:

    With shrinking habitats and food supplies, conservation of land and ecoystems for these incredible animals is increasingly important. However, as you've seen in the above, for many species, the biggest threat comes from people.

    Ultimately, it is our responsibility to not use or consume any animal products so that the beauty of Africa's wildlife remains for future generations to appreciate.

    Facts about Africa: Economy

    • Most of Sub-Saharan Africa is in the World Bank's lowest income category of less than USD 765 Gross National Income (GNI) per person per year. Ethiopia and Burundi are the worst off with just USD 90 GNI per person.

    • Equatorial Guinea is the richest country in Africa. The GDP per capita is USD 30,200 for 2010-2011. Botswana is second with a GDP of USD 15,800. Coming in last is Zimbabwe at USD 200 per year.

    • No fewer than seven of the world's fastest growing economies are in Africa, including Ghana, Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique and Rwanda, all with annual growth rates of around 8% or more. In fact, for the first half of 2011, Ghana's economy grew by a whopping 20.15%

    • Though the top 10 poorest countries in the world are all in Africa, the UN believes they are better placed for a transition to a green economy because they are less dependent on fossil fuels

    • According to the 2011 Mercer's Cost of Living Survey, N'Djamena, Chad is the third most expensive city in the world to live in for expats, while Luanda, Angola came first.

    • South Africa has Sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy, with a real GDP at USD 182 billion; the smallest is Guinea Bissau at USD 230 million.

    • Equatorial Guinea's per capital Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is 83 times larger than the GNI per capita of the poorest (Burundi). 

    • China is currently Africa's largest trading partner; trade grew more than 43% to USD 115 billion in 2010.

    • In 21% of Sub-Saharan African countries, 75% of total exports come from one or two products.

    • Agribusiness and agricultural development are booming in Ethiopia, Ghana, Gabon, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.

    • Most countries except South Africa are deficient in basic infrastructure (roads, rail, electricity, water systems, schools, and medical faculties).

    • In terms of population and land mass, Africa is the second largest continent in the world, trailing only Asia. With the exception of South Africa, Egypt and Libya, over one-third of the billion people on the continent survive with little to no access to electricity. However, renewable energy projects offer a viable solution .

    • Tanzania has the highest proportion of women aged 15-24 in its labor force (82%); Sudan has the lowest (25%): Uganda has the highest proportion of men aged 15-24 in its labour force (83%); South Africa has the lowest (34%).

    Related articles:

    Facts about Africa: Sources

    1. Un-Habitat
    2. UNESCO Adult and Youth Literacy and Education for All Report
    3. Population Reference Bureau's 2011 report and Population Data Sheet
    4. World Religion Database
    5. Urban Titan
    6. Lonely Planet: Africa, the Africa Book
    7. World Bank
    8. BBC
    9. The Richest People
    10. The Economist
    11. Info Please
    12. United Nations New Centre
    13. Mercer Cost of Living Survey
    14. Centre for International Business and Research: Warrington College of Business Administration
    15. Economy watch
    16. World Monuments Fund
    17. Simon's Town Tourism
    18. Wild Madagascar
    19. World Society for the Protection of Animals
    20. Sacred Destinations
    21. CIA: The World Factbook
    22. Huffington Post
    23. Kruger National Park website
    24. Earth Times
    25. Nature Geoscience
    26. African Wildlife Foundation
    27. Freakonomics
    28. National Geographic

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