Geography & Wildlife
Regions of Niger
The country’s main highland area is the Aïr Mountains (also known as the Aïr Massif) – see Map – which are an extension of the Hoggar mountains of Algeria. In the northeast, there is a series of high plateaus in the Ténéré Desert region – see Map.
Niger divides roughly into three geographic regions – the desert zone in the north, a semi-arid zone in the middle and a small fertile area in the southwest.
Niger’s middle region forms part of the Sahel, a semi-arid band of land which runs across Africa, from coast to coast. This Sahel region lies below the Sahara desert.
Since much of Niger consists of desert or semi-desert regions, the flora and fauna of the country is well-adapted to the dry conditions – see adaption techniques.
Vegetation, such as prickly grass (Cenchrus biflorus), often has a short growing season and trees such as acacia have deep roots.
Hunting and poaching have depleted wildlife populations in many parts of Niger. In 2001, the country banned hunting in an effort to save animals such as lions, hippos and giraffes.
For example, the West African Giraffe or Niger/Nigerian Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta) is an endemic species which has become endangered. Experts believe the population is currently just a few hundred animals. However, conservationists are doing their best to protect the remaining giraffes and numbers are on the rise.
Wildlife is protected in reserves such as the 'W National Park' (see Map), which also straddles across Burkina Faso and Benin.
Water is key
An important aquifer
Niger sits on top of a huge underground aquifer known as the 'Iullemeden' (which also lies beneath neighbouring Mali and Nigeria). Since 1995, withdrawals of water from this aquifer have exceeded what is naturally replaced by rain, lowering the water table and endangering the River Niger. The three governments are setting up a body to oversee use of the 'Iullemeden'.
The main source of water is wells, which tap into underground supplies. These can be deep pools and basins where rainwater collects (where oases can be found) or areas where the water table can be reached.
In addition, the River Niger runs through the southwest of the country and Lake Chad lies in the southeast corner. However, Lake Chad is only semi-permanent; the water level reduces during the dry season, leaving only stagnant pools between January and May. The level rises again with the main rains in August.
Climate change is causing weather patterns to change – see Climate & Agriculture. With annual rainfall even more unreliable, there is a great strain on water resources. Even when full after the rains, Lake Chad is much smaller than it used to be some decades ago.