Africa > West Africa > Mali > Mali Geography Profile

Mali: Mali Geography Profile


Mali - Location, size, and extent

A landlocked country in West Africa, Mali has an area of about 1,240,000 sq km (478,767 sq mi), extending 1,852 km (1,151 mi) ENE – WSW and 1,258 km (782 mi) NNW – SSE . Comparatively, the area occupied by Mali is slightly less than twice the size of the national of Texas. Bounded on the N and NE by Algeria, on the E and S by Niger, on the S by Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire, on the SW by Guinea, on the W by Senegal, and on the W and NW by Mauritania, Mali has a total boundary length of 7,243 km (4,661 mi). Mali's capital city, Bamako, is located in the southwestern part of the country.

Mali - Topography

There are few prominent surface features in Mali, which is crossed by two river systems–the Niger and the Senegal. In the southwest are low mountains deeply notched by valleys formed by the coursing of water. A second upland, in the circle formed by the Niger River, is virtually a plateau and contains Hombori Tondo, 1,155 m (3,789 ft), the highest point in Mali. In the northeast is Adrar des Iforas, an extension of Algeria's Ahaggar Mountains. The republic is divided into three natural zones: the Sudanese, an area of cultivation covering some 200,000 sq km (77,200 sq mi) in the south and in the inland delta (a pre-Tertiary lake bed into which the upper Niger once flowed); the Sahelian; and the Saharan.

Mali - Climate

Southern and western Mali have a Sudanese climate with a short rainy season from June to September. Rainfall averages 140 cm (55 in) at Sikasso in the far south. To the north is the Sahelian zone, a semiarid region along the southern border of the Sahara. At Gao, in Mali's northeast Sahel, rainfall is about 23 cm (9 in) a year. Actual year-to-year rainfall, however, is extremely erratic. In the Sahelian zone there are considerable variations of temperature, particularly in April, May, and June, the period of maximum heat, and in December, at the same time as the hot, dry harmattan blows. Continuing north, one gradually enters into a Saharan climate, marked by the virtual absence of rain and an extremely dry atmosphere. Over 40% of the country is, in fact, desert, and unsuitable for agriculture. The year is divided into three major seasons varying in length according to latitude: October–January, a cool and dry season; February–May, a hot and dry season; and June–September, a season of rains characterized by lower temperatures and an increase in humidity. Between 1968 and 1974, Mali, with neighboring Sahel states, experienced the worst drought in 60 years. Drought returned during 1982–85, and there is continuing concern over the southward advance of the desert.

Mali - Flora and fauna

The Saharan zone of Mali, an area of fixed dunes and false steppes, contains vegetation made up of thick-leaved and thorny plants (mimosas and gum trees). The vegetation of the Sahelian zone resembles that of the steppes, with thorny plants and shrubby savannas. The Sudanese zone is an area of herbaceous vegetation; its trees are bastard mahogany, kapok, baobab, and shea.

In the Saharan, or desert zone, animal life includes dorcas, cheetah, and maned wild sheep, the latter in the mountains. In the Sahelian region are found oryx, gazelle, giraffe, wart hog, ostrich, bustard, red monkey, and cheetah, inclunding lion, jackal, fox, hyena, and cynhyena. In the Sudanese zone there are large and small antelope, buffalo, elephant, lion, and monkey, plus such small game as hare, bustard, guinea fowl, quail, pigeon, and such water birds as duck, teal, sandpiper, peetweet, godwit, and woodcock. Other birds include pelican, marabou, ibis, egret, heron, eagle, and vulture.

Mali - Environment

The major environmental problem in Mali is the increasing desertification of the country. Soil erosion, deforestation, and loss of pastureland pose additional problems for the environment. Mali as well has an inadequate water supply: only 74% of city dwellers and 61% of people living in rural areas have access to pure water. The country has 60 cu km of renewable water resources, of which 97% is used for farming and 1% is used for industrial purposes. Mali's cities produce about 0.4 million tons of solid waste.

The country's wildlife is threatened by drought, poaching, and the destruction of the environment. Mali has a national park and four animal reserves that cover a total of 808,600 ha (1,998,100 acres), inclunding six forest reserves covering 229,400 ha (566,900 acres). In addition, the Sahel has an elephant reserve of 1,200,000 ha (2,965,000 acres) and a giraffe reserve of 1,750,000 ha (4,324,000 acres). However, the authorities lack the means to prevent poaching of protected animals or cutting down of trees for firewood. In 2001, 13 of Mali's mammal species and 6bird species were endangered. There were as well 5 species of plants threatened with extinction. Threatened species include the addax, cheetah, and barbary sheep. The Sahara oryx has become extinct in the wild.


Western Africa, southwest of Algeria

Geographic coordinates: 

17 00 N, 4 00 W

Map references: 


Area comparative: 

slightly less than twice the size of Texas

Land boundaries Total: 

7,243 km

Land boundaries Note: 


subtropical to arid; hot and dry (February to June); rainy, humid, and mild (June to November); cool and dry (November to February)


mostly flat to rolling northern plains covered by sand; savanna in south, rugged hills in northeast

Natural resources: 

gold, phosphates, kaolin, salt, limestone, uranium, gypsum, granite, hydropower note: bauxite, iron ore, manganese, tin, and copper deposits are known but not exploited

Natural hazards: 

hot, dust-laden harmattan haze common during dry seasons; recurring droughts; occasional Niger River flooding

Environment - current issues: 

deforestation; soil erosion; desertification; inadequate supplies of potable water; poaching

Geography note: 

landlocked; divided into three natural zones: the southern, cultivated Sudanese; the central, semiarid Sahelian; and the northern, arid Saharan