The Unique Wildlife of the African Rainforest

Discover some of the lesser-known, weird, and wonderful creatures to be found lurking in the depths of the African rainforest.

Sep 22, 2023byCaitlin Ross
unique wildlife african rainforest

If you’re looking for a lush and diverse ecosystem, look no further than the African rainforest. You’ll find that the flora and fauna are very different from the Savanna you may be familiar with! This enchanting place is home to a plethora of fascinating and unique species that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. From majestic mammals to vibrant birds, keep reading to delve into the wonderful world of African wildlife.

Bonobo: A Peaceful Primate

Image credit: Harvard Gazette

The bonobo (pan paniscus) has often been called the “hippie ape” due to its reputation for being peace-loving and friendly to all those around it, including humans!

Native to the dense rainforests of the Congo, the unfortunately endangered bonobos are known for sharing around 98% of their DNA with humans, which is probably what contributes to their peaceful nature. These apes also have profound problem-solving abilities and use their social smarts to solve conflicts with empathy.

They’re incredibly social and have even been known to use sexual activity as a form of bonding and stress relief! They live off mostly fruit and supplement this healthy diet with leaves, honey, and eggs or meat when they can find them.

Okapi: The Elusive Forest Giraffe

Image credit: CBS News

What do you get when you cross a horse, a giraffe, and a zebra? An okapi!

This strange and majestic creature looks more like a cross between a zebra and a common deer, but they’re the giraffe’s closest living relative, hence their nickname, the “forest giraffe.” Much like the bonobo ape, okapis (okapia johnstoni) are endangered, but they differ significantly in their social behaviors, as the okapi is a pretty solitary animal.

They’re native to the northeastern parts of the Congo forests and were only discovered in the early 20th century. Since then, they’ve captivated us with their stunning appearance and their dark, giraffe-like tongue, which they use to reach leaves in the trees.

Pygmy Chameleons: Masters of Camouflage

pygmy chameleon
Image credit: Pet Keen

The African rainforest is also a place where you’ll find myriad different reptiles of all sizes. One of the smallest of the bunch is the pygmy chameleon.

These tiny color-changers typically measure no larger than three inches long when they reach adulthood. Babies are barely the size of your fingertip! As masters of disguise, their minuscule size makes it even easier for them to blend in seamlessly with their environment as your typical chameleon does.

They’re found primarily in the forests of Madagascar, Cameroon, and surrounding regions, where they have become an intriguing symbol of the rainforests hidden treasures.

African Forest Elephant: Gentle Giants of the Woods

forest elephants
Image credit: Britannica

This elusive cousin of the African savanna elephant is native to the dense and humid forests of West Africa and the Congo. While still huge by human standards, these gentle beasts are actually the smallest of the three living elephant species.

Their long, slender tusks and specially shaped feet help them to traverse their muddy, foresty habitat in small groups and access their diet of bark, fruits, and leaves. Their immense fruit consumption means that these creatures play a crucial role in the dispersing of tree species in the forest, spreading seeds and helping new life to grow.

Unfortunately, African forest elephants have faced habitat loss and poaching over recent years, leaving them critically endangered, according to Global Conversation.

Goliath Frog: Mottled Forest Monsters

goliath frog
Image credit: Virginia Zoo

On the opposite end of the tiny pygmy chameleons, we have the Goliath frog – the largest living frog on Earth! This beastly amphibian is also known as the giant slippery frog, thanks to its slick, mottled green skin.

The Goliath grows up to 12.5 inches long and can weigh up to 7.2 pounds, which is astounding when compared to your typical garden frog. It has a distinctly robust build, making it look like an aggressive bodybuilder. However, these swimmers are actually quite skittish despite their size.

Like many of the wonderful creatures on this list, the Goliath frog is sadly endangered due to habitat destruction and overhunting, and they rely on conservation to keep their species alive.

African Greys: Chatty Flyaways

african grey
Image credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Last but certainly not least is a creature we all know and love – a loudmouth parrot. These gems of the rainforest are popular pets thanks to their exceptional mimicry skills and intelligence.

These charismatic birds are grey all over but sport a bright red burst of colorful feathers in their tale. They’re incredibly social and complex creatures and rely on regular communication and mental stimulation, even in their natural habitats (the forests of equatorial Africa).

African greys are also the largest parrots in Africa and make phenomenal pets if they’re treated right and cared for properly.

Caitlin Ross
byCaitlin Ross

Caitlin is an animal lover at heart with a passion for writing and sharing this love with the world. She’s a born and raised South African and grew up always surrounded by animals: more pets than she can count, and regularly adventuring with her family into the bush, where she feels most at peace with the wildlife in their natural habitat.