Geography & Wildlife
Lowlands and highlands
The southern quarter of Nigeria is made up of coastal lowland (0–200 metres above sea level). Then the land rises up. In the central northern region, the Jos Plateau reaches a maximum height of 1,780 metres.
An unprotected coast
Mangroves grow naturally on the coast. But in the Niger Delta and along the shores of Lagos, mangroves have been cleared. This leaves the coastline extremely vulnerable to flooding, especially as sea levels rise; half of the population in Lagos live less than 6 feet above sea level.
In central areas, savannah grasslands are dominant. But further north, semi-arid bushland takes over in the region known as the ‘Sahel’ – see Climate & Agriculture. In the northeast towards Lake Chad, elevations fall again to below 300m.
Low-lying valley land runs along the courses of the River Niger and its major tributary, the River Benue. These rivers act like the arms of a huge letter Y, flowing diagonally down through the country – see Map. After the rivers meet, the Niger flows south to the Gulf of Guinea and splits into many channels before the coast (forming the Niger Delta).
Over a century ago, two-thirds of Nigeria was covered by rich tropical forest. But due to the pressures of a fast-growing population, the forests have been disappearing at one of the highest rates in the world. 20 years ago, forest used to cover around 19% of the land; now, it covers less than 10% (only 4% original rainforest).
One of the main causes of deforestation is the demand for cooking fuel. Wood and charcoal are the most affordable energy source.
Trees are protected in national park areas and in the small southwestern state of Cross River, forest still covers around 30% of land. Here, the importance of conservation and the creation of sustainable livelihoods are recognised.
A vulnerable land animal
Found in the north of Nigeria and other Sahel regions, the African Spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) is now rare in the wild. It is the third largest species of tortoise in the world, reaching up to 90cm in length and weighing up to 90kg.
With the loss of so much forest, many plant and animal species in Nigeria are threatened. Hunting is also common, particularly in poor rural areas, where wild animals are a free source of meat.
The situation is of particular concern for animals which are only found in Nigeria. For example, primates such as the Sclater’s guenon (Cercophithecus sclateri), the white-throated monkey (Cercopithecus erythrogaster) and the red colobus monkey (Procolobus badius waldroni) are threatened with extinction.
Nigeria is also home to endangered birds, such as the grey-neck picathartes (Picathartes oreas) and the African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus). The country has over 900 species of birds and there are over 30 dedicated bird conservation areas.
Smaller animals, reptiles and amphibians are generally left alone and some, such as the agama lizard are commonly seen in urban areas.
Antelopes are particularly prized for their meat and therefore many species, such as sitatunga and roan antelope, are in rapid decline.