Geography & Wildlife


Large ancient plateaux dominate much of the African continent. These high and wide areas of land are lower in the north and west and higher (rising to more than 1,830m / 6,000ft) in the south and east.

Africa also has some spectacular mountain ranges, such as the Atlas Mountains across the northern edge of the continent, running through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

The highest point of the continent is Mount Uhuru – a peak of Kilimanjaro in north east Tanzania – at 5,895m (19,340ft). The lowest point in Africa is 155m (509ft) below sea level at Lake Assal in Djibouti.


The Nile

The Nile


There are seven large rivers:

Across East Africa, there are five large lakes:

  • Victoria (the world’s second largest freshwater lake)
  • Tanganyika
  • Albert
  • Turkana
  • Nyasa (also known as Malawi)

Lake Chad, the largest lake in West Africa, shrinks considerably during dry periods.


Forest homes

Forests are home to half the world's species of animals, birds and insects. Almost half the forest which remains across the world is in the tropics, where the Congo basin makes up a fifth of the globe's rainforest.

As you would expect, wildlife varies across the continent, depending on climate and vegetation. Tropical regions have the richest diversity of animal, bird and insect life.

The continent's large mammals include the African elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, wildebeest and oryx (also known as the gnu). Predatory mammals include lions, leopards, hyenas and cheetahs. Africa's savannahs are particularly known for their herds of zebras, giraffe and antelopes.

Africa has many species of monkey, particularly in the rainforests. They vary in size from gorillas, baboons and chimpanzees to smaller primates, such as the Colobus monkey (which is rarely seen on the ground), the Vervet monkey and the African Squirrel monkey.

  • African elephants
  • Grey mouse lemur

Africa’s smallest primate is the Madame Berthe's Mouse Lemur, the smallest of the mouse lemurs in Madagascar.

Large and small


Africa’s largest bird is the ostrich, its smallest the Sourthern (or Cape) Penduline-tit (10cm in length).


Africa has over 2,300 species of birds. Some are migratory, spending winters on the continent and flying elsewhere for the summer. For example, swallows, swifts and tree pipits make the long journey from Africa to Europe. Birds of prey include eagles and hawks.

South Africa’s south-western and southern-most shores host four species of penguin, although only one (the African penguin) lives and breeds there.

Reptiles, amphibians and insects

Over 100,000 different species of insect can be found in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

Therefore it's hardly surprising that the continent is home to a huge range of reptiles and amphibians, many of whom feed on insects.

There are of course, many exceptions, such as the leopard tortoise which lumbers acros the savannahs or the dung beetle, which rolls balls of animal dung both to eat and to act as a nursery for its young.

Marine life

Tropical fish

Cichlids (pictured below right) come in many varieties and colours. In the wild, they live in large groups and Lake Malawi has the largest of all the Great Lakes.

Africa's seas, rivers and lakes are rich in fish and marine life.

Africa's Great Lakes are particularly noted for their fish species, such as cichlids.

The seas off the coast of Africa contain a high diversity of sharks, dolphins and whales, including many which are extremely rare, such as the Atlantic humpback dolphin.

  • Southern right whale
  • African cichlid

The Southern Right Whale (pictured above left) is the largest mammal in the southern hemisphere and breeds around the southern coast of South Africa.