Deforestation is a severe problem because of the population's growing need for firewood and construction materials. Slash-and-burn agriculture has contributed to soil erosion, which is aggravated by drought. The expansion of the desert into agricultural lands is accelerated by limited rainfall, deforestation, the consumption of vegetation by livestock, and wind erosion. The expansion of domestic herds onto grazing land formerly restricted to wildlife has also taken a serious toll on the environment, both in erosion and in encroachment on wildlife species. As of 2001, only 1.7% of Mauritania's total land area is protected. The nation also has a problem with water pollution, resulting from the leakage of petroleum and industrial waste along with sewage into the nation's ports and rivers. The government plans to build a dam on the Senegal River to alleviate the country's water problems and stimulate agriculture.
In 2001, 14 of Mauritania's mammal species and 3 bird species were endangered, as well as 2 of its plant species. Threatened species include the African gerbil, African slender-snouted crocodile, and barbary sheep. The Sahara oryx has become extinct in the wild.