Although Africa is well known for the Sahara Desert, nearly a quarter of the African continent is covered by rainforests. These jungles are not as well know or protected as the Amazon, but what we do know is fascinating.
The largest jungle in Africa is the Congo Basin, which is the second-largest rainforest in the world and is thought to be the setting for Tarzan. Africa also has many other, smaller rainforests. Altogether, Africa’s rainforests cover as much land as the Amazon Jungle.
When you think of an elephant you probably picture the huge African bush elephant, but there is another type of elephant that lives in Africa, the forest elephant. They are much smaller, with a shoulder height of 6 to 10 feet tall, compared to the shoulder height of 8.5 to 13 feet of the larger bush elephant. Another difference is in the tusks, which are actually incisors. Forest elephant’s tusks grow straighter toward the ground, instead of curving outward like other elephant species.
Tusks have many important functions. Forest elephants use them to dig for roots, water, and minerals, mark trees, fight, and protect. They are also used to push through the dense undergrowth of the jungle they live in, which is important because forest elephants form trails and clearings for many other animals.
Forest elephants have short black hairs all over, which grow longer at their tail. So, if he was stealthy enough, Tarzan really could have pulled out a hair from an elephant’s tail!
Big Eastern Bongo Antelope
These striped antelope are interesting for many reasons. The color of their fur rubs off very easily, especially when wet. Males and females both have two hollow horns, although the male’s horns are usually longer and thicker. They are easily frightened though and will run away instead of fighting most of the time. Luckily for the bongo, people native to its habitat did not hunt them, because they believed that if they touched or ate a bongo, they would have seizure-like spasms.
Bongo antelope are herbivores and will eat a wide variety of plants. They also need salt which they get from natural salt licks and even eat charcoal from trees that have been burnt by lightning to get salts and minerals.
The mountain gorilla is one of the largest living primates. Although huge, strong, and easily able to defend their group, gorillas tend to be peaceful and try to frighten off intruders without physical violence. They are herbivores and one of their favorite foods is celery. Strong molars are necessary to grind up bamboo, bark, twigs, and other tough plant material. Their sharp pointy canines are mostly for show when threatening a predator or rival.
As you can see, their fur is very thick. This is because they live high in the mountains, between 8,000 to 13,000 feet above sea level, and need the extra thick fur to stay warm. The largest dominant male of each group is called a silverback because the fur on their back looks more silver than the rest.
Although mountain gorillas look like the gorillas in Tarzan, they are not. The man who wrote the original Tarzan books made up an imaginary species of gorilla, which act much more human than real gorillas do.
Okapis look like a cross between a zebra and a deer but are actually most closely related to a giraffe! They almost disappear into the jungle because of the unique pattern of their fur. Like giraffes, they are herbivores and also have two horn-like protuberances, called ossicones, on their heads.
They eat over 100 kinds of plants and use their 18-inch-long tongue to browse for plants. This very long tongue is also used to groom their eyes and ears!
Leopards can live in many types of habitats. Leopards that live in jungles tend to have a more golden coat, for better camouflage. They are similar to the jaguar found in the Amazon jungle but are smaller and do not have spots in the middle of their black rosettes. A leopard is possessive of its kill and will drag its food as high as 20 feet up into a tree’s branches to hide it. Powerful jaws and sharp teeth allow it to drag an animal three times its body weight to the chosen hiding place.
African Grey Parrot
African Grey Parrots may not be as brightly colored as many other jungle birds, but they are believed to be the most intelligent species of bird. A domesticated African grey parrot named Alex could understand over 100 words and correctly identify some colors and shapes and understand concepts that the average toddler could understand. He was also the first non-human to ask a question. In case you wonder what a bird’s first question would be, he asked “What color?” when looking at a mirror. Amazingly, if he was tired of being tested, he would say, “Wanna go back,” and if a human seemed irritated with him, he would say, “I’m sorry.” Imagine having a pet like that.
In the wild, they eat seeds, nuts, fruits, flowers, bark, and the occasional insect and snail. Like the Macaw in the Amazon, African grey parrots regularly eat clay and soil. They also like to use their beak and feet to climb when they can, rather than flying. An African grey parrot mates for life, and each pair owns its own tree. Highly social birds, flocks can include 1,000 birds and are often extremely noisy.
The strange-looking tree pangolin is covered in three-pointed scales made of keratin, like our fingernails. This nocturnal animal can hang from trees by its tail, like an opossum, and secretes a stench similar to a skunk when threatened. Like the anteater, pangolins don’t need teeth but have a long, sticky tongue to eat their favorite food; ants and termites. Although they look a bit alike and eat the same food, pangolins and anteaters are not related.
Bonobo chimps are slightly different than common chimpanzees in many ways, including looks and behavior. Bonobos have smaller heads with a slimmer bone structure. They are omnivores and their teeth are similar to humans. Each bonobo has distinct facial features like humans do, in order to tell individuals apart. They are much less aggressive then other chimpanzees and scientists have described them as extraordinarily peaceful.
Red River Hog
Red River Hogs are a weird type of pig that lives primarily in African forests. Like many wild pigs, the males have large tusks which are overgrown canine teeth. They use these tusks to scrape off bark to mark their territory, scrape the ground to unearth food, and fight when necessary. Although they don’t look like they can swim, they are actually great swimmers and can even hold their breath underwater for a long time.
Imagine walking through the jungle and stumbling into a column of 50 million ants! Driver ants, also called safari ants, or siafu, live in huge colonies. Mostly nomadic, they march from one food source to another, and they can build a living bridge with their bodies to get where they need to be. Siafu are highly aggressive, have a painful bite, and the larger ants can sting. Their jaws are so powerful that natives use them as surgical staples to close wounds.
Hairy Bush Viper
If the huge column of ants wasn’t enough to freak you out, imagine reaching for a flower and grabbing this creature instead. This stunning snake doesn’t get very large, topping out at a bit over two feet long, but its fangs do inject a highly toxic venom. It can climb the stalks of plants and likes to bask in the sun on top of flowers and leaves. Unlike other snakes, this viper’s scales point out giving it a spiny look, almost like people imagine some dragon scales would be. Maybe this snake is where we first got the idea for dragon scales.
Like many of earth’s jungle areas, illegal logging has destroyed huge swaths of rainforests, putting the survival of many species at risk. A National Geographic Explorer named Topher White has developed a way to monitor for sounds of illegal logging using old cell phones! He rigs solar chargers to old cell phones and attaches an extra microphone to pick up the sound of chainsaws almost a mile away. He then sets the device to detect the logging sounds and send a text alert to local authorities. His devices are currently used in South American rainforests but could potentially expand to African jungles as well. Other groups are working on solutions for this problem, as well as solutions for curbing illegal poaching and for gathering real-time data on jungles. You can look into ways to donate your old cell phone to one of these groups, or you can recycle it at the Phoenix Zoo. Zoos recycle old cell phones to reduce both pollution and the market for coltan, which is an ore used in making electronics, but mining it devastates wildlife habitats.
Animals of the African jungles may not usually be as brightly colored as those of the Amazon jungle, but they have a wide variety of beautiful and unusual scales, horns, and stripes or patterns in their fur. African jungle animals are also unique because many species display fascinating behaviors or intelligence that is much higher than usual. We hope you enjoyed learning about these remarkable animals, and we look forward to turning your next dental or orthodontic appointment into a fun-filled jungle-themed adventure at Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry and Orthodontics!
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