The wild icons of Africa, by the Born Free Foundation
1 African elephant
• Distribution: Elephants live in 38 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Drastic population decline due to poaching for ivory has occurred in recent years and elephants are now locally extinct in parts of their former range. Their current range extends across most of southern and eastern Africa as well as a patchy distribution in central and west Africa, as far west as Senegal.
• Population: c. 420,000
• Wild facts: Elephants are herbivores and need more than 150kg of food every day, requiring them to spend around 75% of their time feeding. As herbivores their diet is varied, consisting of grass, leaves, twigs, buds, fruit and even roots and bark. Elephants’ distinctive physical characteristics include their versatile trunk, perfectly adapted to picking up food, touching and greeting other elephants, drawing up water, breathing and producing sound; their large ears (the largest in the world), and their ivory tusks. Elephants live in family groups or herds which, presided over by a matriarch (dominant female), can consist of many individuals and can have home ranges of up to 1800km2.
• Wild future: Described as the ‘world’s most charismatic mega-herbivore’, elephants face a number of serious threats, including illegal killing for the ivory trade, along with conflict with humans due to habitat destruction for agriculture and through human population expansion. Born Free works to protect elephants in the wild through funding anti-poaching patrols and population monitoring in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and beyond.
• Distribution: Chimpanzees are found in 21 countries across central and western Africa.
• Population: c 240,000.
• Wild facts: Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. They are extremely intelligent, feel complex emotions and live together in close-knit family communities, with a defined hierarchy led by a dominant male. Chimps spend hours grooming friends and family, reinforcing social bonds. Chimps are mainly vegetarian. They crack open nuts with stone ‘hammers’; use sticks to ‘fish’ for termites and use leaves to mop up drinking water from a tree-hole.
• Wild future: Chimps’ distribution has contracted and populations declined as chimpanzees and their habitats have been over-exploited and destroyed. Chimps also suffer terrible abuse at human hands. Poachers butcher entire families for the commercial bushmeat market and sell the babies as exotic pets. Born Free supports sanctuaries which offer lifetime care to chimps rescued from the bushmeat and pet trades, and funds the work of LAGA (and other members of the EAGLE network) that is working to enforce and uphold environmental law.
Ceratotherium simum (white rhinoceros); Diceros bicornis (black rhinoceros)
• Distribution: There are two subspecies of white rhinoceros (northern white and southern white). Black and white rhino are now restricted to eastern and southern Africa.
• Population: There are roughly 20,170 white rhinoceros (and as few as four northern white rhinoceros) and 4880 black rhinoceros in the wild.
• Wild facts: The rhinoceros is characterised by its large size, weighing up to 2700kg. All rhinos are herbivores, but some are specialised in browsing, while others are grazers. Rhinos have one or two horns and a thick skin made of collagen. White and black rhinos rely on their lips to tear and gather food. Their eyesight is poor but their sense of smell and hearing are good.
• Wild future: Despite the international rhino horn trade ban in the 1970s, rhinos are being poached due to the relentless demand for their horn, driven by escalating demand in Asia (despite scientific evidence dismissing the belief that rhino horn has medicinal properties) and an ever increasing black market price. The rhino poaching epidemic has grown exponentially in recent years with 1004 rhino poached in 2013 in South Africa alone, compared with just 13 in 2007.
• Distribution: Lions are found in 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya, with around 2000, is one of their last remaining strongholds.
• Population: Lion numbers in Africa have fallen by 30-50% in the last 20 years. Today as few as 32,000 lions are thought to survive.
• Wild facts: Lions are the second-largest of the big cats, smaller only than the tiger. Despite being known as the ‘king of the jungle’, the lion prefers open savannah habitats. Lions are intelligent and agile, capable of sprinting, jumping and climbing. They are designed to hunt with powerful bodies, excellent eyesight, acute hearing and a good sense of smell. Unlike most cats, lions live and hunt in groups called prides, enabling them to bring down large prey such as buffalo and even young elephants.
• Wild future: As more and more land is being taken over by humans, lion populations are becoming fragmented and their prey species depleted. Hungry lions are forced to look elsewhere for food, resulting in an increase in their killing of livestock. Farmers desperate to protect their herds sometimes kill in retaliation using weapons or poisons. In Kenya, Born Free works to support the Kenyan Wildlife Service and the National Lion and Spotted Hyena Conservation Strategy by reducing human wildlife conflict through the construction of lion-proof bomas to shelter livestock at night, as well as through education and habitat protection.
5 Green Turtle
• Distribution: Green turtles are found worldwide – mainly in tropical and subtropical waters.
• Population: Although populations of green turtles are very hard to estimate, as they spend much of their time at sea, monitoring of nesting sites has indicated a 48-65% decline in the number of mature females nesting annually over just three generations. Like all of the seven species of marine turtle they are listed as ‘endangered’ on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List for Endangered Species.
• Wild facts: Green turtles are the only vegetarian turtle, with the adults eating seagrass and marine algae. They have a life span of up to 80 years and are generally solitary creatures, rarely encountering other turtles apart from during courtship and mating. Perfectly adapted for the marine environment, the males spend their entire lives at sea, while the females return to shore only to lay eggs. Although slow and cumbersome on land, turtles are fast and agile swimmers.
• Wild future: Until recently marine turtles survived in great numbers in tropical and subtropical waters but in the last century over-exploitation, disturbance of nesting beaches and marine pollution have caused a rapid decline in global populations. Hunted for their meat, shells and eggs, populations take a long time to recover as only one in a thousand eggs laid survives to adulthood. Funded by the Born Free Foundation, Sea Sense in Tanzania and Watamu Turtle Watch in Kenya, work with local communities to protect nesting beaches and nests from environmental and human disturbance.
• Distribution: Hippopotamuses are found in 29 countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Population declines are reported in half of these countries, the largest decline being seen in DRC.
• Population: 125,000.
• Wild facts: The hippopotamus is a semi-aquatic mammal inhabiting rivers and lakes. Their diet consists mainly of grasses. They leave the water at dusk and travel inland, sometimes up to 8km, to graze for up to five hours. Although hippos lie close to each other in the water, they do not seem to form social bonds apart from those between mothers and their offspring. In the water, male hippos are territorial; with a bull presiding over a stretch of river containing up to thirty females.
• Wild future: The primary threats to hippos are illegal and unregulated hunting for meat and teeth, and habitat loss. Born Free supports the rehabilitation of Douglas the orphan hippo in Zambia as well as working to phase out the keeping of wild animals in captivity.
Gorilla gorilla (western gorilla) Gorilla berengei (eastern gorilla)
• Distribution: These two species are further divided into four subspecies (eastern gorilla – eastern lowland gorilla and mountain gorilla; western gorilla – cross river gorilla and western lowland gorilla) all of which are confined to only ten countries of eastern and central Africa.
• Population: c.160,000 (the majority of which are western lowland gorillas).
• Wild facts: Gorillas live in complex communities with families led by dominant males. They are vegetarian, eating plants and fruit. A member of the great ape family, gorillas are inventive, able to assess and learn, can solve complex problems and pass information from one generation to the next.
• Wild future: Gorillas’ forest homes are being destroyed by logging companies, which open up habitats to poachers who kill gorillas for bushmeat and sell their infants as pets. Born Free supports ranger patrols and a local community organisation that protects eastern lowland gorillas (found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo) in the wild as well as the EAGLE network operating in many countries across central and western Africa to enforce wildlife laws and end the illegal bushmeat trade.
• Distribution: Mostly found in East and southern Africa, although residual populations survive in western Africa.
• Population: The nine sub-species of giraffes make up a total of c.100,000 animals. The most threatened is the Rothschild’s giraffe, with fewer than 670 remaining.
• Wild facts: Giraffes are the tallest animal on the planet. Their long legs and necks help them feed, exploiting the leaves on tree-tops out of reach to smaller animals. They live in herds and tend to drink or sleep in shifts allowing one animal to keep a look-out for predators. Giraffes, despite their seemingly spindly legs, are extremely strong. A well-placed kick could shatter the skull of a predatory lion, while a running giraffe can reach speeds of more than 80km/h. A giraffe’s patchy coat acts as a camouflage, helping it to blend into its background when feeding amongst trees.
• Wild future: Wild giraffes have been extensively hunted for their meat, but today their main threat is habitat loss. In a finite area the future of large giraffe populations looks stark and Born Free has helped to relocate Rothschild’s giraffes within Kenya to several new protected areas where they have the space to thrive.
9 Ethiopian wolf
• Distribution: The Ethiopian wolf is confined to seven isolated subpopulations in the Ethiopian highlands but more than half of the population lives in the Bale Mountains.
• Population: Possibly fewer than 500.
• Wild facts: The Ethiopian wolf is the most threatened canid in the world and the only wolf species to be found in Africa. Ethiopian wolves live in close-knit territorial packs of between 3 and 13 adults, with a strong hierarchy. All members of the pack will assist in caring for the pups, helping to feed and protect them. Although they hunt alone, they congregate for social greetings and territory patrols. Rodents such as the giant mole rat make up over 90% of their diet.
• Wild future: The Ethiopian wolf is predominantly threatened by the spread of lethal diseases carried by domestic dogs as well as habitat loss. Funded and supported by the Born Free Foundation, the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme team is working to study and protect the remaining populations and runs an extensive local education and community programme to raise awareness of their plight.
• Distribution: Cheetahs, once found across Africa and Asia are now confined to sub-Saharan Africa and Iran. Today Namibia has the largest population with an estimated 3000 animals.
• Population: Between 7000 and 10,000.
• Wild facts: All cats are carnivores (meat-eaters) at the top of their food chains, and most hunt at night. Cheetahs, however, to avoid competition, hunt during the day, relying on vision and speed (reaching speeds of up to 100km/h for around 450m). Over 2m long from head to tail tip and weighing up to 65kg, cheetahs are slender and long-legged, with a relatively small head. They are covered in small, round black spots, with black ‘tear marks’ running from eyes to mouth which help keep sunlight out of its eyes.
• Wild future: Cheetahs are trafficked out of Ethiopia for the Middle Eastern pet trade. Ensessakotteh, Born Free’s Wildlife Rescue, Rehabilitation and Education Centre in Addis Ababa, provides a safe haven for a number of rescued cheetah and the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and Born Free are collaborating to bring an end to this trade.
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For more information…
On our work and the species we protect please visit the Born Free Foundation website at www.bornfree.org.uk