SEVEN BILLION

7

SPECIAL SERIES

Realms of the Albertine
From Lake Albert through Lake Tanganyika, the 920-mile-long rift holds four ecosystems vital to its biodiversity. With fertile volcanic soil and ample rain, it also supports one of Africa’s densest human populations, mainly subsistence farmers. Wildlife conservation here also looks to heal wounds of war: Conflicts over land, resources, and power have killed millions of people in the past two decades.
MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK

The Great
AFRICA

Rift Valley
DYNAMICS OF LIFE IN THE ALBERTINE RIFT
Western escarpment Fault

The western arm of Africa’s Great Rift Valley—the Albertine Rift—embraces such rich and varied habitats that its wildlife diversity is unparalleled on the continent. With deep freshwater lakes filling the valley’s spine (map, far left), the Albertine spans mountains, marshes, savannas, and active volcanoes. The geologic forces that created this rift valley are still in motion, most visibly at its center, around Lake Kivu (below).
N

UGAN DA DEM. REP. O F THE C O

NGO

UNDER THE VOLCANO In the path of Nyiragongo’s lava flow, the city of Goma has grown from 50,000 to a million people in the past 20 years. Many are refugees from eastern Congo warfare.
UGANDA RWANDA

ALBERTINE RIFT ECOSYSTEMS
B C D

Bl

Lake and wetland Savanna-forest mosaic
Lowla n d Fore st SEMULIKI NAT. PARK

Bunia

M

on

ts

L

A

K

E

A

L

B

R

E

T

Alpine moorland

eu

s

A

Montane forest

Musanze Arrows indicate relative motion of tectonic plates. Lava beds Nyiragongo
(Ruhengeri)

CONG O
Butembo
VIRUNGA
L owl an d Fo re st

or i

D EM OC R A T I C R E PU B LI C OF T HE

A B

M

. ts

Rw en z

RWENZORI MTS. NAT. PARK KIBALE NATIONAL PARK
C

UGA N DA

Africa’s Great Rift Valley follows the edges of tectonic plates that merged more than a billion years ago. Now the plates are separating, or rifting, along those seams. The Arabian plate was the first to split off, starting 30 to 25 million years ago. In another 30 million years, rifting may cleave the Somalian plate from the main continent and detach the block called the Tanzania craton.
MILLION YEARS AGO 1 10 Tectonic plates begin to move

DE

Splitting a Continent

Lava oozes through fissures in Earth’s crust. Magma

.R EP RW .O AN DA

F

CO THE

NG

O

M

Lava flow from 2002 eruption

Rubavu

Goma

(Gisenyi)

Lake eG George eorge
D

Lake Kivu
Volcanic cones

Carbon dioxide bubbles up and dissolves in the lake’s depths. Lake sediments atop layers of volcanic rock

S

Ed

rd wa

Re

La ke

NATIONAL

QUEEN ELIZABETH RK NATIONAL PARK

A

The elevation profile of four ecosystems (right center) follows this 82-mile-long cross section.

ARABIAN PLATE

d Se

N

ts.

RI

ga M

PARK

NUBIAN (AFRICAN) PLATE Ethiopian Rift Western Rift (Albertine)

Gulf

of A

den

SOMALIAN PLATE Eastern Rift
INDIAN OCEAN

A

apart as magma rises. A shallow valley forms, with a low escarpment, or ridge, along a fault line. Lava oozes up through fissures and cools into sheets of rock.

a

I

Western escarpment Faults Solidified layers of volcanic rock

VIC

Nyiragongo
11,385 ft 3,470 m K

BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NAT. PARK MGAHINGA GORILLA NAT. PARK

TO

TA N ZA N IA
Area shown in Lake Kivu geology diagrams (right top)

Vi

TANZANIA CRATON

T

run

MILLION YEARS AGO 2 7.5 More magma rises as the land

N

LAKE

vu

Goma CAN A SN NAT. PARK VOLCANS Rubavu
(Gisenyi)

(Ruhengeri) Ruh hen enge g ri r) us sa anz nze (R Musanze

M

A K ga Ki gali li l i Kigali

Madagascar

e K i

TODAY

continues to stretch and fracture. Volcanic cones begin to dot the valley. Faulting causes the west side of the valley to sink, heightening the escarpment.

O

U

Eastern escarpment

Rising magma

Scale varies in this perspective. Distance from Goma to Nyiragongo is 10 miles (16 kilometers).

Lak

RWAND A
ARABIAN PLATE

Bukavu
B

(Butare)

Huye

NUBIAN (AFRICAN) PLATE

4 TODAY Three volcanoes remain active. Nyiragongo
MILLION YEARS AGO 33 The widening rift valley sinks

A

Muyinga
M
U

SOUTH SUDAN

SOMALIAN PLATE TANZANIA CRATON

B U RUND I
Uvira Bujumbura A

POPULATION DENSITY
People per sq km (sq mi) 50 (130) 100 (260) 200 (520) 500 (1,300) 1,000 (2,600)

further, creating an escarpment on the east. Streams flowing from the western highlands fill an early Lake Kivu. Erupting volcanoes will form the Virunga Mountains.

Streams flow from highlands into an early Lake Kivu. Bottego 15,418 ft

erupted in 1977 and 2002, taking lives and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Molten rock beneath 1,600-foot-deep Lake Kivu releases carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in the lake. If an earthquake or eruption freed the gas, along with trapped methane, the death toll would be catastrophic.

I

T

15,000 ft

Madagascar

Ugom a

UGANDA

30 MILLION YEARS FROM NOW

M

12,500 ft

B

Alpine moorland
10,000 ft

A

Rwenzori Mountains Montane forest
D

GOMBE STREAM NAT. PARK

The Albertine Ark
Uvinza
RWANDA

Montane forest
7,500 ft

L

Savanna-forest mosaic
C

Kigoma
Flooded Grassland

BURUNDI

The Albertine Rift cradles more than 850 species found nowhere else—including the rare mountain gorilla (about 780 remain) and the venomous Great Lakes bush viper. There are familiar faces too: More than 50 percent of the continent’s bird species and almost 40 percent of its mammal species live here. The illustrated scenes at bottom highlight four vital Albertine ecosystems.

Extreme variation in altitude and climate contributes to the Albertine’s biodiversity. This elevation profile of habitats, with their typical plants and animals, traces the 82-mile-long cross section marked on the map at far left.
HEAVILY CULTIVATED AREA

A
K

5,000 ft

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

UGANDA

Lake and wetland L a k e G e o r g e
African elephant

E
T
hil
TANZANIA

SPECIES KEY
ENDEMIC (FOUND NOWHERE ELSE) NOT ENDEMIC THREATENED OR VULNERABLE ENDANGERED

Blue-headed sunbird

Parrot impatiens

Great Lakes bush viper

Mountain gorilla

Giant lobelia

Ruwenzori duiker

Shoebill stork

Red hot poker flower

Hippopotamus

African lion

Uganda giant cycad

D EM OC R A T I C R E PU B LI C OF T HE

MAHALE MTS. NATIONAL PARK
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE

A
a

N

G

Mu

CONGO
on

CONGO

A

ts

a l i m b a

ZAMBIA

M

A MONTANE FOREST Total species

B ALPINE MOORLAND

C LAKE AND WETLAND

D SAVANNA-FOREST MOSAIC
Acacia tree Martial eagle

N

8,668
TA N ZA N IA
A
La

L’Hoest’s monkey
385 1,074 177 143 480 6,409

Y

ke

Ru

kw

M

o

a

MAMMALS BIRDS REPTILES AMPHIBIANS FISH PLANTS

Giant heather

M

Blue-headed coucal

Candelabra tree Sitatunga Giraffe Elephant

I

t

s

K

n

Ruwenzori turaco

Giant groundsel Giant lobelia

Golden monkey Hippopotamus Goliath heron Papyrus gonolek Lion Topi

Endemic
Thicket Flooded Grassland

854
NSUMBU NATIONAL PARK

er

u

M

MAMMALS BIRDS REPTILES AMPHIBIANS FISH PLANTS

45 42 18 38 370 341

Yellow-crested helmet shrike

Ruwenzori otter shrew Tree hyrax

Papyrus Congo clawless otter

African pygmy goose

Lappet-faced vulture Uganda kob

w

ke

La

ZAMBIA
0 mi 0 km 100 100

Strange-nosed chameleon

Threatened
Flooded Grassland

Disa stairsii orchid Mountain gorilla

175

Flooded Grassland

DESIGN: JUAN VELASCO TEXT: SHELLEY SPERRY ART: ALDO CHIAPPE (WILDLIFE), GARY HINCKS (GEOLOGY) RESEARCH: BARBARA L. WYCKOFF PRODUCTION: SANDI OWATVEROT-NUZZO CONSULTANTS: ALEXANDRIA L. GUTH, MICHIGAN TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY; ANDREW J. PLUMPTRE, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY; JOHN BATES AND VELIZAR SIMEONOVSKI, FIELD MUSEUM; HENK BEENTJE, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, KEW; JULIAN KERBIS, ROOSEVELT UNIVERSITY; JOS SNOEKS, ROYAL MUSEUM FOR CENTRAL AFRICA MAPS: ROSEMARY P. DALEY, DEBBIE GIBBONS, JULIE A. IBINSON, JAMES E. MCCLELLAND, JR. MAP DATA: TERRESTRIAL ECOREGIONS GIS DATABASE, WORLD WILDLIFE FUND; SRTM DATA, INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR TROPICAL AGRICULTURE; NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY; MODIS/TERRA VEGETATION CONTINUOUS FIELDS, NASA; UMD GLOBAL LAND COVER CLASSIFICATION, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND; OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY LANDSCAN 2009/UT-BATTELLE TECTONIC MAPS: STANISLAW MAZUR, GETECH; AFAR RIFT CONSORTIUM, UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS (DATA) MORE ON NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAPS AND ITS PRODUCTS AT NATGEOMAPS.COM OR CALL 1-800-962-1643 COPYRIGHT © 2011 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY, WASHINGTON, D.C. PRINTED SEPTEMBER 2011

MAMMALS BIRDS REPTILES AMPHIBIANS FISH PLANTS

36 25 2 15 24 73

Covering the lower slopes of mountains and the highlands flanking the valley, this ecosystem holds the rift’s greatest number of endemic species. Flamboyant birds and chameleons and 11 species of monkeys share the forest with the web-toed Ruwenzori otter shrew, about a foot long, which catches crabs and insects in streams.

THREATS Even in protected areas, forests are cleared for farmland and fuel; gold mining is fouling streams.

At altitudes above 10,000 feet, the misty Rwenzori Mountains and the volcanic Virunga chain shelter otherworldly plants—heathers as tall as trees and towering lobelias. Thick fur warms the tree hyrax, a distant relative of the elephant. Two endangered primates, the mountain gorilla and the golden monkey, survive here.

THREATS The warming temperatures of climate change could shrink this already restricted habitat.

Papyrus is the sole perch of the red-breasted papyrus gonolek. Along with other wetland vegetation, papyrus fronds form supportive mats for aquatic antelope called sitatungas. The Congo clawless otter fishes here and also digs for giant earthworms in pockets of swampy forest clearings scattered about the rift.

THREATS Overfishing is taxing lake stocks, and wetlands are being drained to expand farmland.

Two rainy seasons a year bring abundant grass for the savanna’s grazing topi and Uganda kob—prey for the top predators, lions, and for scavenging vultures and eagles. As elephants push over trees while feeding on branches and leaves, grassland expands. Natural fires frequently sweep through, priming the savanna for regeneration.

THREATS Trees are cut for charcoal; lions that attack encroaching domestic cattle are killed by farmers.

Species numbers, from the Wildlife Conservation Society, are best estimates as of 2011 and considered to be minimums.

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