In the heart of Western Africa lies Mali: landlocked, sunkissed, home to the nomadic Tuaregs and desert blues, Timbuktu and the trans-Saharan trade route, the Grand Mosque of Djenné, Sahelian Kingdoms and savannah grasslands, the last refuge of the Western Chimpanzees and the critically endangered desert elephants of Mali.
Mali, about the land of Sahara, Sahel and Savannah
Once upon a time there were vast kingdoms in West Africa that traded in gold, salt, slaves, spices and other precious commodities. These kingdoms were known as the Sahelian kingdoms. Mali was home to one of these rich and vast Sahelian kingdom, formed on the upper Niger. The cities of Djenné and Timbuktu became the hub of trade and Islamic learning, and still stand today, a testament of the glory of this medieval kingdom.
Internal strife caused the empire to collapse, and with the establishment of sea routes by European traders caused the demise of the trans-Saharan trade route. In the 19th century, European colonisers established their reign across Africa and Mali came into the hands of the French. It was only in 1960 that Mali established its independence from France.
The Landscape of Mali
The north of Mali is arid desert, whereas the southern portion of the country ranges from thick woodlands to tropical savannah. The Sahel, the portion between the desert and savannah, lies in between. The Niger river valley dominates a vast majority of Mali with the Niger river passing through the capital Bamako and the historic city of Timbuktu.
Most of northern Mali receives little to no rainfall. In the southern portion of the country, including the Bafing Biosphere, rains usually arrive in June and extend till October.
Wildlife of Mali
Due to years of strife, there is very little wild life remaining in Mali.
The largest national park is Boucle du Baoulé National Park, located to close to the capital city of Bamako. However, there is very little wildlife remaining due to extreme poaching. Boucle du Baoulé National Park is now known for its prehistoric rock art and tombs.
Mali is most notable for it’s critically endangered population of desert elephants in the Gourma region.
Other than this, the Bafing Biosphere (including Bafing National Park, Kouroufing National Park and Wongo National Park) is notable for its efforts to conserve the endangered Western chimpanzee.
The Desert Elephants of Mali
The Reserve de Douentza in the Gourma region of central Mali, south of the bend of River Niger, is most interesting in terms of wildlife. It is home to large herds of extremely endangered desert elephants, found only in Mali and Namibia. While desert elephants were once widespread across Northern Africa, now less than 400 elephants remain in the Gourma region.
These desert elephants are notable for moving in large herds of over a 100 elephants, making a treacherous 4000 km migratory journey each year, moving up to 55 kms a day, in search of food and water.
While notable conservation efforts are underway by the Wild Foundation (Mali Elephant Project) and Save the Elephants, rampant poaching and human population pressures may make the Mali desert elephants extinct by 2019.
Things to do in Mali
- Festival au Désert (Festival in the Desert) – Three days of desert blues, under the stars with stars like Tinariwen and others.
- Mosques and world-heritage cities of Djenné, Djinguereber, Timbuktu
- Mount Hombori
- Capital city of Bamako
- Bafing Biosphere