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Africa’s Great Rift Valley, spanning 3,000 miles from the Red Sea through East Africa and Mozambique, is a deep, freshwater-filled fissure in the earth’s crust. Forest-clad mountains, valleys, volcanoes, rivers, grasslands and huge lakes surround the massive geographic trench, helping make the Great Rift Valley Africa’s most biologically diverse region.
Mammals abound in the Great Rift Valley. Lions, leopards, African elephants, rhinos, buffaloes, cheetahs, giraffes, antelopes, zebras and primates ranging from mountain gorillas to chimpanzees all call the Africa’s Rift Valley home. Mountain gorillas are some of the most iconic animals endemic to the Rift Valley. They inhabit the Albertine Rift Montane Forest in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Adult males are unmistakable: They grow patches of silver hair on their backs and hips, giving them the common name “silverbacks."
Crocodiles, snakes, geckos, lizards and skinks coexist throughout Africa’s Rift Valley. Crocodiles patrol the major lakes and rivers in the region; flamingos are some of their favorite prey. Venomous puff adders (Bitis arietans) and Africa’s largest snake, the African rock python (Python sebae) are some of the most respected and feared reptiles in the region. Though African rock pythons are nonvenomous, these powerful constrictors are known to prey upon antelope and even small crocodiles.
Flamingos, pelicans and ostriches are some of the most famous birds living in the Rift Valley. Thousands of lesser flamingos (Phoenicopterus minor) permeate Lake Nakuru in Kenya. Such a large number of flamingos feed in the area that aerial views of the lake appear bright pink. Hundreds of bird species including grebes, eagles, vultures and swifts inhabit areas throughout the Rift Valley.
Great Rift Valley lakes are some of the oldest, deepest freshwater lakes on earth. These lakes are home to hundreds of African cichlid species. African cichlids are small, vibrantly colored, predatory fish that practice mouth brooding. Lakes Malawi, Victoria and Tanganyika in particular are teeming with indigenous cichlids. Lake Malawi holds the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world -- more than 800 species of Cichlidae alone.
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