What is a rainforest?
A rainforest is a dense area of tall, mostly evergreen trees found in tropical regions with consistently heavy rainfall. These forests are rich in biodiversity, which means they are teeming with incredible plant and animal life that is crucial to ensuring their ecosystem stays balanced and healthy.
Rainforests are the oldest living ecosystems on Earth; some have been around for at least 70 million years. Of course, the world’s largest and most famous rainforest region is the Amazon. Still, they can also be found in western India, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Australia, and Africa in central and South America!
So in celebration of these great African ecosystems, we’ve put together this list of fascinating facts to engage children with the topic.
6 African Rainforest Facts for Kids
- Africa has the second-largest rainforest in the world
The Congo rainforest, found across the west and central part of Africa, is the second-largest on the planet, next to the Amazon. It can be found in the Congo ‘basin’, an area of land where all the water drains into the Congo River, one of the longest rivers in the world.
Other smaller rainforests in Africa include the Guinean forests that span from Sierra Leone to Cameroon in the west, the Afromontane forest that runs from Ethiopia to the south of the continent, and the coastal forests that run from Kenya to Mozambique. There are also island forests on Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands.
The Congo rainforest spans six African countries, including parts of Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and parts of the Central African Republic.
- Africa’s rainforests are quite dry
The nature of a rainforest means there is often heavy rainfall, but the forests in Africa are quite dry compared to others around the world. In Africa, rainforests can receive between 63 and 78 inches (1600 and 2000 mm) of rainfall yearly, whereas the Amazon has a minimum of 80 inches (2032 mm) annually.
- More than 400 species of mammals live in the African rainforest
The Congo Basin rainforest is renowned for its rich biodiversity. Over 400 species of mammals, 1,000 species of birds, and 700 species of fish live there, among many other creatures. Some of its most famous residents include chimpanzees, gorillas, hippos, and elephants, and they have a really important role in shaping its characteristics.
For example, trees in African rainforests are generally taller, but there are fewer small trees compared to those in Central and South America. This is because large herbivores such as elephants and hippos eat all the small trees, meaning the tall trees have less competition and can grow taller!
The rainforest chimpanzee (also known as the common chimpanzee) can be found in equatorial Africa’s central and western parts. Although they are the most abundant and widespread member of the ape family, they are listed as ‘endangered’ because there has been a significant drop in their population over the past 30 years due to habitat loss and poaching. Unfortunately, this reduction in numbers is expected to continue.
There are two species of hippos in the African rainforests — the common hippo and the smaller pygmy hippo. After elephants and white rhinos, hippos are the third-largest land mammal. They are semi-aquatic, meaning they spend time on land and in water, so the rainforest’s swamps, rivers, and wetlands are the perfect home for them. Unfortunately, they are subject to hunting, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, their numbers have declined by 95%.
The African forest elephant is found in the humid forests of West Africa and the Congo Basin. They are smaller than African elephants found in the savannah. As human populations expand, the areas where elephants can roam are getting smaller, and they are subject to the effects of deforestation and poaching like so many other species.
The Okapi (or forest giraffe) is another fascinating resident of the Congolese rainforest. It has stripes like a zebra but is most closely related to the giraffe, although its neck is not as long. Only discovered by the western world in 1901 and now endangered, this rare and mystical creature can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is almost impossible to spot in the wild.
The Congo Basin is home to two types of gorillas – mountain and western lowland gorillas. All gorillas are endangered, but the western lowland gorilla is critically endangered due to poaching and disease (including the Ebola virus). As a result, their numbers have declined by 60% in the last 25 years. Smaller than mountain gorillas and with a brown coat instead of black, it’s very hard to spot these elusive creatures in the forest as they tend to rest hidden away in densely covered areas but can occasionally be spotted playing in the trees.
- The Congo Basin rainforest contains 70% of Africa’s plant cover
There are approximately 10,000 species of tropical plants in the Congo Basin. The wonderful biodiversity of the rainforest’s plant life accounts for 70% of plant cover in Africa. There are up to 600 different species of tree, which include:
Two important chemicals can be found inside the bark of the cinchona tree – quinine and quinidine. Both of these are used in medicine that can be used to treat malaria.
This plant plays an important role in the Congo rainforest as it provides a crucial food source for many animals that live there. It’s called the ‘strangler’ fig because it attaches itself to a tree which it slowly kills off as it grows to the top of the canopy. Once the tree has died, the strangler fig is left alone.
The Moabi Tree is another important food source, particularly for humans, as its fruit can be eaten, and oil for cooking can be extracted from its seeds. This seed oil is a precious commodity as it is very valuable.
This giant rainforest tree can reach up to 230 feet and grow up to 10 feet in diameter. It’s covered in spikes to protect itself from animals.
- Humans have lived in the Congo rainforest for more than 50,000 years
It is believed that human inhabitants have made the Congo rainforest their home for more than 50,000 years. Today, there are around 150 different ethnic groups who live a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the forest. Communities such as the Ba’Aka, BaKa, BaMbuti, and Efe, among others, rely on the forest for food, medicine, water, shelter, and raw materials and have an incredible knowledge of the forest and its animal and plant life.
- African rainforests are disappearing at an alarming rate
African rainforests are important for many reasons, and their destruction has many environmental, social, and economic implications. Firstly, rainforests are home to a diverse range of animal and plant life that is at risk of extinction; forests provide raw materials which boost the global economy; an estimated 25% of the world’s medicines are derived from rainforest plants; plus, as the ‘lungs of the earth’ we need rainforests to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide that’s released into the air, so they are crucial to preventing global warming.
Africa is home to 18% of the world’s rainforest, so deforestation has a big impact. For example, almost 90% of rainforest in the coastal area of West Africa has already been destroyed, and deforestation in the Congo Basin has doubled since 1990.
Luckily, the rainforest in the Congo has not seen the same amount of deforestation and decline as in other parts of Africa and the world. This may be because there has been lots of political unrest here, with poor infrastructure and instability, which means the rainforest has not been under as much threat. However, this could change with new investment and the increase in the industry.