Geography & Wildlife
Flat semi-arid land
Located in the large Senegal-Mauritanian basin, Senegal is a flat, low-lying country.
A country within a country
The Gambia, formed by the River Gambia and land either side, is another country. This effectively separates the south-west region of Casamance from the rest of Senegal.
The only mountainous area is in the south eastern corner (along the Guinea border), which falls within the Fouta Djallon highlands. These highlands are the source of some of West Africa’s key rivers, including the Sénégal and the Gambia.
As well as being flat, the northern part of Senegal is extremely dry, lying in what’s known as the ‘Sahel’ belt. This is a region of semi-arid land stretching across the continent. In certain areas with ground water, there are stretches of gallery forest (similar to rainforest but not as dense). But mostly, vegetation is sparse with thorny acacia trees and huge baobabs dotting the landscape.
An iconic tree is the kapok/silk-cotton, which forms the centre of many Senegalese villages. With its huge exposed roots at the base, it is sometimes called the ‘elephant’ tree. But to locals, it is more commonly known as the fromager (from the French word for cheese) because of its soft, light wood.
Greener to the south
Mangroves are tropical evergreen plants adapted for watery regions. There are two common types – the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) with its distinctive stilt roots (see photo) and the white mangrove which grows where ground is only submerged at high tide.
To the south of the country, vegetation is green and lush because of the higher rainfall. Deforestation from human settlement has robbed much of the west of its native rainforest, as well as displacing wildlife.
The Niokolo Koba National Park in the east conserves the natural environment. Here, elephants, lions, panthers, cheetahs and jackals can be found.
Rich vegetation thrives along the rivers running east to west – the Sénégal, Saloum, Casamance and Gambia. These are fed by heavy rains from June to September.
The deltas of Senegal
At the mouths of these rivers are important deltas. The Casamance delta irrigates the fertile agricultural region of the south west, while the creeks, islets and lagoons of the Saloum River delta provide a haven for wildlife and unique habitats such as the mangrove swamps.
The Sénégal River delta is home to the Djoudi Sanctuary, a wetland of 16,000 hectares. This area has over a million birds and an estimated three million pass through on their migrations. Residents (for at least some of the year) include the Great White Pelican and Purple Heron.
The waters of the Sénégal River delta are also home to several species of crocodile, warthogs and the endangered West African manatee, a plant-eating marine mammal related to the dugong.