Within the 5 million miles of West Africa, there are 16 countries. The better known nations include Senegal, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo. West Africa has three major ecological zones, including rainforest, Sahara and Sahel. Each region is home to different animal species that have evolved to survive in their specific environments.
Giraffes are one of the most populous animals living in the Sahel. They can reach 18 feet in height and are most often found in savanna or bush country. Giraffes prefer to travel in herds and, when necessary, can run as fast as 30 miles an hour. While the species is protected in East Africa, hunting is permitted in the West African Sahel, and their numbers have been declining in the area as a result.
The Senegal gerbil is the most common mammal in the Sahel. These small creatures are somewhat destructive and have been known to consume between 5 percent and 10 percent of the Sahel's annual vegetation. They are native only in the western areas of the Sahel, mostly in Senegal, Gambia and Mali. They tend to make homes in small, shallow burrows in sandy surfaces.
Small Fennec Foxes
The small fennec fox is a carnivore that grows to no more than 17 inches long. It weighs less than 3 pounds. When full grown, these desert dwellers are about the size of a cat. Their distinctive large ears help release heat from their bodies. During the day, fennec foxes live in tunnels they have dug into sand dunes. At night, they hunt rodents like the jerboa.
Relatives of the mouse, jerboas make up one of 40 rodent species that inhabit the Sahara. Their method of survival includes digging below the sand of the desert to reach soils that stay between 10 and 20 degrees cooler than the desert floor. Unlike many other rodents, the jerboa has weak front legs and must use its entire body, including its nose, to burrow. At night, the animals venture out to find food.
African Forest Elephants
While most people know of Asian and African elephants, they don't know that there are more than one species of African elephants. The African savanna elephants are much better known than their smaller, forest-dwelling counterparts, and even scientists know very little about these giant mammals. The forest elephants are crucial to the rainforest environment. When elephants trample through the dense growth, it clears paths for other animals. Elephants also aid the forest by pulling down small trees and branches in search of the bark and vines, which they eat. This action allows sunshine to seep through the tree canopy. Additionally, the incorporation of fruit into their diet serves as an efficient means of spreading seeds through the forest.
These little hippos are still very big mammals, weighing in at more than 400 pounds and measuring about 5 feet long. They are native to the lowland and wet forests in southern West Africa. Unlike the larger hippos most people are familiar with, pygmy hippos spend a lot of their time out of the water. They tend to live alone or in relatively small groups.