Squeezed between Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, Mali and Algeria, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world when measured by GDP per capita. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t rich in wildlife, history and nature. From its own dinosaur to the tallest mud-brick minaret in the world, here are a few interesting facts about Niger that might surprise you.
Interesting Facts About Niger
1. Niger is home to the largest protected area in Africa
The Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves is the largest protected area in Africa, spanning a whopping 7.7 million hectares. The area encompasses a volcanic rock mass, as well as a staggering variety of plant species and wild animals. Its isolation and very minor human presence mean that wildlife species that have been eliminated elsewhere can survive here. For instance, it’s home to three Red List antelopes: the Dorcus gazelle, Leptocere gazelle and the Addax. It’s also home to a handful of fox species and the cheetah.
The massif of the Aïr is on the transit route for a number of tropical and Palaearctic migratory birds.
2. Niger has its own dinosaur
Did you know that Niger has a dinosaur named after it? The 30-foot herbivorous dinosaur lived in the region around 100 million years ago. According to the experts, it would have lived alongside the predatory dinosaur Suchomimus, the plant-eaters ouranosaurus and lurdusaurus, and supercroc.
The Nigersaurus had a delicate skull and a wide mouth lined with more than 500 replaceable teeth adapted to grazing plants close to the ground. Experts have also found its bones in Algeria, Niger and Tunisia.
3. Niger is home to the highest mud-brick structure in the world
Located in the historic heart of Agadez, the Grande Mosquée d’Agadez (Agadez Mosque) soars 27 metres (88 ft) high, making it the tallest mud-structure minaret in the world. The Sultanate of Aïr established the city in the 15th and 16th centuries and the mosque has been an important gathering place for prayers for centuries.
4. Niger is part of the Great Green Wall of AfricaProject
Niger is one in the Great Green Wall of Africa project, the world’s most ambitious reforestation project. Conceived in 2007 by the African Union, the 7,000 km (6,000 miles) cross-continental barrier will stretch all the way from Senegal to Djibouti. It aims to improve livelihoods in one of the world’s poorest regions living on the frontline of the climate crisis. The mosaic of restored land will also capture carbon dioxide and reduce conflict, terrorism and migration.
As of 2022, the project is roughly 15% underway and already bringing life back to Africa’s degraded landscapes at an unprecedented scale, giving a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path.
5. Niger is home to one of the world’s largest-known animal carvings
The Dabous Giraffe Petroglyph is a life-sized carving of two giraffes dating back 10,000 years. It’s the largest known animal carving in the world. The prehistoric art is located in an isolated spot in the Sahara, in an area known as the ‘Tenere Desert’. Tenere means ‘where there is nothing’, so it gives you an idea of the landscape here. The Bradshaw Foundation and Trust for African Rock Art have worked hard to preserve the carvings.
6. Niger has been inhabited for over 50,000 years
Evidence suggests that humans have lived in Niger for nearly 60,000 years. Experts have concluded that humans inhabited what then became the desolate Sahara Desert of northern Niger, then moved to huge grasslands in around 7,000 BCE. However, it’s likely humans have lived here from even earlier. In neighbouring Chad, researchers found the Australopithecus bahrelghazali remains, dating back 2-3 million years.
From the 10th to 18th centuries, Niger was part of a handful of West African empires, including Songhaï, Mali and Kanem-Borno and Mali. It played a prominent role in the gold, salt and slave trade. Then came the French in 1890. It remained a French colony until 1958 when it became an autonomous republic of the French Community. Niger gained independence in 1960.
Since then, Niger has experienced huge political instability, as well as a series of coups. This, combined with droughts and insurgency, has made it one of the poorest countries in the world.
7. Niger is one of the hottest countries in the world
The Sahara Desert covers nearly four-fifths of Niver, making it one of the hottest countries in the world. Drought and desertification threaten the non-desert portions of the country too.