Geography & Wildlife

Land of the ‘Voltas’

Dirt track leading into grassland in Burkina FasoBurkina Faso is located on a plateau and three-quarters of the country is fairly flat.

However, the land rises up in the south, where Mount Tenakourou reaches a modest 749 metres. And in the southwest, there are rolling hills and dense woodlands.

The country has a number of lakes and river basins. The largest is the Volta basin with its three rivers – the Black Volta (Mouhoun), Red Volta (Nazinon) and White Volta (Nakanbe) running through the central and western half of Burkina.

Home to the upper courses of the Volta rivers, the country was named Upper Volta by the French.

Savannah wildlife

Burkina’s natural wooded grassland or ‘savannah’ is preserved in the country’s Roan antelope, by Paulmaz (talk) (Uploads) (photo taken and submitted by Paul Maritz (paulmaz)) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commonsmany national parks, which contain the largest number of elephants in West Africa. Lions, leopards and buffalo can also be found here, including the dwarf or red buffalo, a smaller, reddish-brown animal which looks like a fierce kind of short-legged cow.

Other large predators include the cheetah, the caracal or African lynx, the spotted hyena and the African wild dog, one of the continent’s most endangered species. At least one pack survives in the ‘W’ National Park game reserve.

Burkina Faso also has the highest concentration of roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus) in West Africa – see photo. Other grazers include the western hartebeest and the more common western Buffon’s kob with its beautiful curving horns.

Two of the best-known parks

The ‘W’ park spans across three countries (Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger). Its unusual name stems from the double bend in the Niger river on its northeastern side (like an upturned ‘W’). Following years of neglect, the park received 20 million Euros in EU funding. This paid for vital infrastructure and new watering holes. Now the park’s savannah woodland is home to over 30 species of mammal and 350 species of bird.

A hippo swimming across a lake

In the south, Nazinga Game Ranch is popular with tourists because of its many elephants.

The most dangerous African animal?

Sacred crocodiles

Traditional beliefs hold that crocodiles and humans share the same spirit. Therefore to a Burkinabe, the animal is sacred. At some lakes – see the Map –  crocodiles are fed on a diet of chickens. Well-used to human contact, they can be approached by visitors. But this isn't true everywhere, so beware crocodiles in other places!

Asked to name Africa’s most dangerous animal, people might guess the crocodile. The African Nile Crocodile is certainly found in the rivers, lakes and ponds throughout Burkina Faso.

But there is actually a water-dweller (shown lurking in the photo) which poses an even greater threat to humans – the hippopotamus.

Hippos are easily agitated, especially if they have young calves close by or if their route to water is blocked. With their huge bulk and fast charge – hippos can run at 45km/hour over a short distance – these heavyweights are responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other animal.

Thankfully, the hippos seem peaceful at Lake Bala, where Awouah goes to see her favourite animal – watch the Hippos video.