The Lion King

Week 3 Assignment: About Africa


Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent. At about 30.2 million km2 (11.7 million sq mi) including adjacent islands, it covers six percent of Earth's total surface area and 20.4 percent of its total land area. With 1.1 billion people as of 2013, it accounts for about 15% of the world's human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent includes Madagascar and various archipelagos. It has 54 fully recognized sovereign states (or countries), nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition.

Africa's population is the youngest among all the continents; 50% of Africans are 19 years old or younger. Algeria is Africa's largest country by area, and Nigeria by population. Africa, particularly central Eastern Africa, is widely accepted as the place of origin of humans and the Hominidae clade (great apes), as evidenced by the discovery of the earliest hominids and their ancestors, as well as later ones that have been dated to around seven million years ago, including Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Australopithecus africanus, A. afarensis, Homo erectus, H. habilis and H. ergaster – with the earliest Homo sapiens (modern human) found in Ethiopia being dated to circa 200,000 years ago. Africa straddles the equator and encompasses numerous climate areas; it is the only continent to stretch from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones.

Africa hosts a large diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages. In the late 19th century European countries colonized most of Africa. Most modern states in Africa originate from a process of decolonization in the 20th century.

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Large ancient plateaus 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 (shown below) – 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.

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There are seven large rivers:

  • Nile (shown below)
  • Congo
  • Niger
  • Zambezi
  • Orange
  • Limpopo
  • Senegal

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.


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The Serengeti is a vast ecosystem in east-central Africa. It spans 12,000 square miles (30,000 square kilometers) giving rise to its name, which is derived from the Maasai language and means “endless plains.” This region of Africa is located in north Tanzania and extends to southwestern Kenya. The Serengeti encompasses Serengeti National Park and a number of protected game reserves and conservation areas maintained by the governments of Tanzania and Kenya. The region hosts the largest mammal migration in the world and is a popular destination for African safaris.

Altitudes in the Serengeti range from 3,020 feet to 6,070 feet (920 meters to 1,850 meters) The usually warm and dry climate is interrupted by two rainy seasons — March to May, and a shorter season in October and November.

The Serengeti landscape is quite varied with flat-topped acacias (a genre of shrubs and trees), rolling plains and open grasslands that are bordered by hills and rocky formations. Extreme weather conditions plague the area, with harsh winds combining with heat to create a harsh environment.

The expansiveness of the Serengeti is interrupted by Ol Doinyo Lengai (shown below), the only active volcano in the area and the only volcano that still ejects carbonatite lavas that turn white when exposed to air. When it rains, the ash turns into a calcium-rich material that is as hard as cement.

The southeastern area lies in the shadow of the Ngorongoro highlands and is composed of shortgrass treeless plains as this area does get rain. Some 43 miles (70 km) west, acacia woodlands rise suddenly and extend west to Lake Victoria and north to the Loita Plains.

The landscape is dotted with a number of granite and gneiss outcroppings known as kopjes, which are large rocky formations that are the result of volcanic activity. The Simba Kopje (Lion Kopje) is a popular tourist stop.



African lion
The best-known predator of the Serengeti plains, African lions hunt animals such as zebras, antelope and wildebeest. These large carnivores can reach six feet in length and weigh up to 500 pounds. Lions live in prides of 3–30 members. These groups are led by a single male, and females share responsibility for hunting and rearing cubs.

Lion populations are in decline throughout Tanzania, and the species may soon be declared threatened by the International Union of Concerned Scientists.

The hyena is Africa's most common large carnivore. Over the years hyenas and humans have come into close contact in Africa and, in earlier times, in Asia and in Europe, often leading to mutual predation. In ancient Egypt hyenas were domesticated, fattened and eaten, and in turn humans have on occasion become food for hyenas. Reputed to be cowardly and timid, the hyena can be bold and dangerous, attacking animals and humans.
Important members of the ecosystem, wildebeest constantly trim the vegetation as they graze, maintaining Serengeti National Park’s broad grasslands. A sudden increase or decline in their numbers could alter the landscape drastically enough that new diseases might emerge, prompting new threats to the Serengeti’s wildlife. Wildebeest support numerous species of carnivores, including lions, African wild dogs, jackals, cheetahs, leopards and more.

With long eyelashes, dark eyes, and an almost comically large, curved bill, hornbills have many admirers (the eyelashes are modified feathers!). These birds range from the size of a pigeon to large birds with a 6-foot (1.8 meters) wingspan. You can easily pick out a hornbill from other birds by a special body part atop their bill called a casque.

Hornbills have a long tail, broad wings, and white and black, brown, or gray feathers. This contrasts with the brightly colored neck, face, bill, and casque in many species. Females and males often have different colored faces and eyes. Their closest relatives are kingfishers, rollers, and bee-eaters.

Found in Africa and Southeast Asia, hornbills live in forests, rainforests, or savannas, depending on species. But no matter where they live, hornbills are diurnal, often rising with the sun to preen and call to their neighbors before heading off for a meal. Some species go off to forage in pairs or small groups while other species gather in flocks that may number in the hundreds. In between meals, the birds preen themselves and each other and do a bit of sunbathing. Bill care is important, too, and the birds rub their bill and casque frequently across a branch or bark to keep them clean. When the day is done, they return to their home tree to roost.


Mandrills are the largest and most colorful of the Old World monkeys. They are related to baboons and even more so to drills. Their furry head crest, mane, and beard are quite impressive. But what grabs your attention is their bright coloration. They have thick ridges along the nose that are purple and blue, red lips and nose, and a golden beard. It almost looks like they’re not real!

An adult male mandrill that has the brightest and most distinctive colors on his face seems to be most attractive to females. But that's not all—those bright colors show up again on the mandrill’s rear end! Why? Well, those colors impress the ladies. And, they help mandrills to follow each other in thick forests. Adult females have duller colors and longer muzzles. They are also much smaller, about half the size of the adult males.


Warthogs are members of the same family as domestic pigs, but present a much different appearance. These sturdy hogs are not among the world's most aesthetically pleasing animals—their large, flat heads are covered with "warts," which are actually protective bumps. Warthogs also sport four sharp tusks. They are mostly bald, but they do have some sparse hair and a thicker mane on their backs.

Though warthogs appear ferocious, they are basically grazers. They eat grasses and plants, and also use their snouts to dig or "root" for roots or bulbs. When startled or threatened, warthogs can be surprisingly fast, running at speeds of up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) an hour.


A “kat” is not a “cat” when it’s a meerkat, a vital, clever, and amazing weasel-like animal that is a member of the mongoose family. Most people know meerkats from the character Timon in The Lion King animated movie. However, instead of spending all their time with a warthog, most meerkats live in underground burrows in large groups of up to 40 individuals called a gang or a mob. For meerkats, there isn’t just safety in numbers—there’s also companionship. The mob is made up of several family groups, with one dominant pair that produces most of the offspring, but they don’t have to be related to belong to the same group. Meerkat mobs spend a lot of their time grooming and playing together to keep the family as a tight unit. This community existence helps the meerkats survive.

Many adaptations help meerkats live in their arid, dusty environment in southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert. Dark patches around their eyes act to cut down on the sun’s glare, and long, horizontal pupils give meerkats a wide range of vision. Meerkats are built for digging and have a special membrane that can cover the eye to protect it while burrowing. These small diggers also have ears that close to keep out the sand while at work. In addition, meerkats have four toes (most mongoose species have five) on each foot and very long, nonretractable claws to help them dig.

Plains zebra

Zebras are social animals that spend time in herds. They graze together, primarily on grass, and even groom one another. Why do zebras have stripes at all? Scientists aren't sure, but many theories center on their utility as some form of camouflage. The patterns may make it difficult for predators to identify a single animal from a running herd and distort distance at dawn and dusk. Or they may dissuade insects that recognize only large areas of single-colored fur or act as a kind of natural sunscreen. Because of their uniqueness, stripes may also help zebras recognize one another.


Yellow Fever tree (Acacia xanthophloea)
The Yellow Fever Tree is a common site in Serengeti in wet areas of black-cotton soil, such as along rivers. Early settlers in Kenya and India knew that malaria was more common near standing water, but blamed the Yellow Acacias there instead of mosquitoes; thus the name "Yellow Fever Tree."

Umbrella tree (Acacia tortilis)
The tree that has come to represent Africa. Acacia tortilis arches dramatically over the savanna throughout Serengeti. The seedlings of this tree are favored by elephants and cannot survive bush fires, so only twice in the past one hundred years have tortilis trees been able to grow. As such all of the tortilis trees in Serengeti are either 100 or 20 years old.

Red Grass (Themeda triandra)
Turning a dark reddish color as it dries, Themeda is one of the main grass species in the long-grass plains and woodlands of Serengeti. This grass normally grows as a dense bunch, though on the long-grass plains it can become the dominant grass and grows widely spaced like a field of wheat. Wildebeest eat Red grass, though it is consumed generally after more palatable grass species are exhausted.

The Mexican Poppy
This is an invasive species in Serengeti, recently introduced South West of Ngorongoro with a shipment of wheat seeds. Along with other invasives such as Prickly Pear (Opuntia sp.), and Custard Oil (Rhyciuus sp.) the Mexican Poppy may pose a very serious threat to the survival of the Serengeti Ecosystem. During the 1960's Prickly Pear ruined thousands of square kilometers of Australian savanna ranchland, while the Mexican Poppy is making some areas near Karatu unfarmable, competing with both crops and native plants. The threat of an invasive species changing the vegetation structure of Serengeti and thus the wildlife appears both real and immediate; Karatu is only eighty kilometers from the entrance gate of Serengeti National Park and individuals have already been found within the park.

Pan Dropseed (Sporobolus ioclados) (formerly marginatus)
This Sporobolus species is one of the two dominant species on the short grass plains along with Digitaria macroblephora. Both species grow in a dwarf form which can be difficult to recognize. The hard pan layer in the soil prevents grasses from growing deep roots, and very high levels of herbivory during the wet season combine to produce these smaller grass forms.

Whistling thorn (Acacia drepanolobium) (Ant-galled Acacia)
Tap a "drep" and you are in for a surprise. This odd-looking tree has hard, hollow spheres at the base of its thorns, filled with biting ants. The tree actually encourages these ants by both providing homes and food in special flower-like structures called "extra-floral nectaries". These tree grow in abundance wherever the soil is saturated.