Africa is the second largest continent in the world, both by land area and population. There are 54 countries located in Africa. Aside from 54 recognized states, there are two states whose independence is disputed (Western Sahara and Somaliland). The United Nations states that there are 54 countries in Africa. By land area, Algeria is the largest country on the continent. By population, Nigeria is the largest. Africa has a rich diversity of languages and ethnicities with an estimated 1250-3000 languages spoken across the continent. Some of Africa's largest cities include Cairo, Khartoum, Accra, Johannesburg, Casablanca, Lagos, Nairobi, and Algiers.
The continent occupies nearly 11.7 million square miles, encompassing the adjacent islands as well. The Mediterranean Sea separates Africa and Europe while the Isthmus of Suez joins Africa and Asia. Africa is surrounded by the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and finally the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The distance between the most southerly point at Cape Agulhas and the most northerly point at Ras ben Sakka, Tunisia is an estimated 5,000 miles. The distance between the most easterly points at Ras Fun, Somalia to the most westerly projection in Cape Verde is approximately 4,600 miles. The continent straddles the equator, and it is home to multiple climate areas.
Anthropologists have unearthed numerous fossils as well as other evidence which suggest that the continent has been inhabited as far back as seven million years ago BP (Before Present). Africa became home to communities of hunter-gatherers an estimated 150,000 to 100,000 years BP. The domestication of animals, agriculture, and ironworking all facilitated settlement in various parts of the continent. Africa was the cradle of such civilizations as the Pharaonic civilization in medieval Egypt. The Romans and Greeks were the first Europeans to explore Africa. Christianity entered Africa through Egypt from Judaea while the Arab expansion into Egypt in the 7th century introduced Islam to the continent. Before colonization, Africa was home to about 10,000 different polities and states. Slavery was also practiced in Africa from the 7th century all the way to the 20th century. The late 19th century saw European powers scramble for various regions in Africa and only Liberia and Ethiopia were spared of colonialism. After the Second World War, colonial territories began agitating for independence. Most of the sovereign nations in Africa today have borders which were drawn up by their former colonial powers.
Ecology and Biodiversity of Africa
More than 3,000 protected areas, 198 marine protected areas, as well as biosphere and wetlands reserves, have been established on the continent. Africa is known for harboring populations of wild animals ranging from giraffes, lions, camels, snakes, buffalo, crocodiles, cheetahs, and elephants. The rich biodiversity is under threat from civil conflicts, increasing population, habitat destruction, lack of adequate protection, poaching, soil degradation, and clearing of forests.