Mountains - shown in purple on the map - are distributed across the continent like an archipelago of islands rising from the lowlands and plateau below. Many of them are of volcanic origin - including most famously Mount Kilimanjaro - while others (such as the Rwenzoris, Mountains of the Moon) are thrust up by forces associated with faulting and cracking of the earth's crust. Broadly speaking, Africa can be considered in two halves - ‘high' Africa in the east and south, and ‘low' Africa in the west, north and centre.
The continent's three highest peaks are all in East Africa, and all three are world heritage sites. Mount Kilimanjaro is the world's tallest free-standing massif, and one of the world's largest volcanoes, covering a surface area of almost 4,000 km2. Mount Kenya, another extinct volcano, rises from the Kenya highlands and its jagged peaks and glacial tarns are especially beautiful. Further west, the Rwenzori range is much wetter and more ancient, thrust up from the surrounding plateau during the formation of the western (Albertine) branch of the Great Rift Valley. These three mountains all support permanent glaciers, although these are melting fast and will only remain a few more decades under the influence of global warming.
The other world heritage mountains are South Africa's Drakensberg and Ethiopia's Simien Mountains, two of Africa's most spectacular escarpments with their great basaltic cliffs and deeply incised valleys. The only world heritage mountain in the ‘lowland half' of Africa is Mount Nimba, west Africa's highest point and home to many unique species that have evolved in isolation on this remote mountain. Follow the links to learn more about these amazing African mountains!
Slideshow of the main features of Africa's world heritage mountains
Iconic Species: The high mountains of Africa have given rise to some extraordinary vegetation communities - with giant versions of plants whose closest relatives grow as small herbs in temperate regions. Three quarters of the 4,000 species of plants in the ‘Afro-montane region' occur nowhere else, and the giant Lobelias and Senecios which grow like enormous candelabra below the jagged peaks create an other-worldly scene, with more intricate details painted by brightly coloured mosses.
Missing links: Whilst the continent's most outstanding mountains are already included on the world heritage list, other exceptional places certainly deserve consideration including the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania, and maybe even the Tibesti Mountains of Chad, and the high Atlas of north Africa. For further details and slideshows of these potential world heritage sites, click here.
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