Official name: Republic of Senegal
Area: 196,190 square kilometers (75,749 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Unnamed feature near Nepen Diakha (581 meters/ 1,906 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Western
Time zone: Noon = noon GMT
Longest distances: 690 kilometers (429 miles) from southeast to northwest; 406 kilometers (252 miles) from northeast to southwest
Land boundaries: 3,101 kilometers (1,927 miles) total boundary length; The Gambia 740 kilometers (460 miles); Guinea 330 kilometers (205 miles); Guinea-Bissau 338 kilometers (210 miles); Mali 419 kilometers (260 miles); Mauritania 813 kilometers (505 miles)
Coastline: 531 kilometers (330 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Senegal is located on the western bulge of Africa between the countries of Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau. It shares borders with a total of five countries, including The Gambia, which is entirely surrounded by Senegalese territory. With a total area of about 196,190 square kilometers (75,749 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of South Dakota. Senegal is divided into ten regions.
Senegal has no outside territories or dependencies.
Senegal has a tropical climate. Temperatures are lowest along the coast. At Dakar they vary from 26°C (79°F) to 17°C (63°F) from December to April, and from 30°C (86°F) to 20°C (68°F) from May to November.
The rainy season generally lasts from June through October. The southern Casamance River region, however, has a longer rainy season than the area north of The Gambia. In the semi-arid extreme north, for example, Podor has an average rainfall of 34 centimeters (13 inches); while Ziguinchor, near the Guinea-Bissau border, receives an average of 155 centimeters (61 inches). Dakar averages 57 centimeters (22 inches) of rain each year.
Senegal is the westernmost part of a broad savannah extending across the Sahel. Most of the country lies upon a low sedimentary basin characterized by an expanse of flat and undulating plains with sparse grasses and woody shrubs. There are no significant natural landmarks or major changes in elevation. Broken terrain and steep slopes are found only in the extreme southeast.
Extensive riverine areas have been converted to farmland, especially in the Siné and Saloum River basins; the lowlands between Thiès and Kaolack yield significant peanut and other food crops. Beyond these areas, most of the land has little potential except as pasturage. Volcanic action created the Cap Vert promontory, which is the westernmost point in Africa, and the nearby islets. Senegal lies on the African Tectonic Plate.
The western coast of Senegal faces the North Atlantic Ocean. The North Atlantic provides Senegal with a great deal of rich fishing ground, which is a major component of Senegal's economy. The goblin shark, an animal with a peculiarly shaped body of which little is known, is prevalent in the ocean waters near Senegal.
There are many ports and harbors along the Atlantic coast, the largest of which is the capital city of Dakar. Other harbors up and down the coast are Kaolack, Matam, Podor, Richard Toll, Saint-Louis, and Ziguinchor.
Saint-Louis, the former capital of colonial French West Africa, is located on an island near the mouth of the Senegal River. Ile de Gorée, once a slave transshipment point, is situated between the Cap Vert peninsula and the Petite Côte of the mainland. In the Senegal River valley above Dagana is the Ile à Morfil, a narrow island several hundred miles long between the river's main channel and the Doué channel on the opposite side. Senegal's estuaries contain many flat islands dividing numerous river channels
North of the Cap Vert promontory, the pounding of heavy surf, northeast trade winds, and the southwest-flowing Canary Current formed the coastal belt. It is covered by small swamps or pools separated by very old dunes as high as 30 meters (100 feet). The peninsula of Cap Vert itself is the westernmost point in Africa. South of Dakar, the coastal strip of sand beach narrows and is interrupted by a rocky promontory at Popenguine. Just above The Gambia, the coast is broken by the channels and islands of the Saloum River estuary. South of the Casamance River, silt and sand clog various creeks and estuaries in an area of salt flats.
The largest lake in Senegal is the artificially controlled Lac de Guiers (Guiers Lake). This shallow lake is fed by the Senegal River and extends for an average length of about 80 kilometers (50 miles), averaging about 12 kilometers (8 miles) in width. A dam, as well as a gate on what is known as the Taoué channel, control water flow into this lake. At the highest level, the lake waters reach another 64 to 80 kilometers (40 to 50 miles) southeastward into the Ferlo Valley.
To the north of the Cap Vert peninsula lies Lac Rose (Pink Lake), a shallow saltwater lake occupying a depression behind the coastal dunes. Organisms that live in the lake give it a pinkish color, and villagers extract its salt for commercial purposes.
Senegal's largest rivers—the Senegal, Siné, Saloum, Gambia, and Casamance—are sluggish, marsh-lined streams emptying into broad estuaries along the Atlantic Ocean. The Senegal River is the longest at 4,023 kilometers (2,500 miles). It rises in Guinea from the Bafing River, which is joined in eastern Mali by the Bakoye River. As it enters Senegal, the Falémé River joins it from the south. At high flood stage, water from the Senegal River spreads through a system of channels, sloughs, and adjacent lowlands until most of the valley is a sheet of water, from which the tops of trees appear as green patches and villages stand out as isolated islands. At the onset of the long dry season, ocean tides extend nearly 483 kilometers (300 miles) upstream. During the rainy season, however, the salty water is forced seaward and the system is refilled with fresh water.
The Gambia River, which rises in Guinea, receives the flow of a perennial river, the Koulountou, which also runs north from Guinea to join it near the Gambian border. Between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, the Casamance River drains a narrow basin less than 32 kilometers (20 miles) wide, becoming a broad estuary 104 kilometers (65 miles) from the sea, 10 kilometers (6 miles) wide at the mouth.
The Saloum River and its major tributary, the Siné River, feed into an extensive tidal swamp just north of The Gambia. Only the lower reaches carry water all year, and these are brackish, as the tides penetrate far up the various channels through the swamp.
Senegal lies at the edge of the region known as the Sahel. Sahel is an Arabic word that means "shore." It refers to the 5,000-kilometer (3,125-mile) stretch of savannah that is the shore, or edge, of the Sahara desert. The Sahel spreads west to east from Mauritania and Senegal to Somalia.
The terrain of Senegal is primarily low, rolling plains. Mangroves, thick forest, and oil palms characterize the coastal area of the Casamance River. This vegetation changes to wooded or open savannah in the central and eastern parts of the Casamance and throughout the Siné-Saloum River area. From Mauritania to The Gambia lies the Ferlo Valley, a featureless expanse of savannah in which dried tufts of grass, scrub, and thorn trees dominate over the long, dry season.
Except for the dunes in the coastal belt and several minor hills northwest of Thiès, the southeast is the only area with elevations of more than 91 meters (300 feet) above sea level; and even there, only a few ridges exceed 396 meters (1,300 feet). The country reaches its highest point, 581 meters (1,906 feet), at an unnamed point near Nepen Diakha.
There are no mountain regions or volcanoes in Senegal.
There are no significant caves or canyons in Senegal.
In the extreme southeast, the Fouta Djallon plateau extends into Senegal from Guinea.
The ebb and flow of the Senegal River is checked at some points by dikes; these are opened to admit the fresh water and are later closed to impound it for use during the dry season and to exclude advancing salt water.
There are two sites in Senegal that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In the Senegal River delta, the Djoudj Sanctuary is a wetland that serves as home to over one million birds, including the white pelican, the purple heron, the African spoonbill, the great egret, and the cormorant.
Along the banks of the Gambia River, Niokolo-Koba National Park is a protected area that is home to the Derby eland (largest of the antelopes), chimpanzees, lions, leopards, and a large population of elephants, as well as many birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
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Beaton, Margaret. Senegal . New York: Children's Press, 1997.
Clark, Andrew F., and Lucie C. Phillips. Historical Dictionary of Senegal. 2nd ed. Meutchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1994.
Gellar, Sheldon. Senegal: An African Nation between Islam and the West. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.
Senegal Online: Geography. http://www.senegal-online.com/senega06E.htm (accessed May 5, 2003).