Niger is a landlocked West African country bordering Nigeria, Benin, Algeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali. Most of the country’s wildlife abounds within the Niger Delta, on the banks of the River Niger, and in it and its tributaries. The country is particularly rich in flora and fauna similar to that found in other West and North African countries. Some of the notable native reptiles of Niger are looked at below.
Desert Monitor (Varanus griseus)
The Desert Monitor (Varanus griseus) is one of Niger’s native reptiles. The animal lives in the Sahara Desert, which covers around 80% of Niger's land area. The desert monitor has adapted to the harsh conditions, with a tough skin to withstand the scorching heat. The animal can grow to as long as two meters. The animal has strong limbs and can run at top speed of 45 kilometers per hour, a speed which aids it during hunting. They also have forked tongues similar to those of snakes, which help to locate prey. The monitor searches for food during the day when it is most active. The desert monitor feeds on smaller reptiles, small mammals, insects, birds, and eggs. The animal hibernates between October and April in burrows to preserve energy. The Desert Monitor lives to between 8 and 30 years.
Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)
The Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is common in Niger. The crocodiles grow to between 16 feet and 18 feet at full maturity and weigh an average of 225 kilograms. The crocodile feeds on fish although it preys on other animals such as zebras, small hippos, birds, small crocodiles, and even humans. The Nile Crocodile will typically prey on any animal that crosses its path. The animal has a particularly strong jaw and sharp teeth that enable it to effectively hold down an animal.
The Nile Crocodile has an average lifespan of 45 years, and mostly resides in the Nile River and its tributaries. The thick scaly skin of the crocodile has made it a target for illegal poaching, due to the high global demand for reptiles’ skins. Hunting of this animal has led to a notable decrease in its numbers. Conservation efforts by the government and environmental groups have been implemented to ensure the survival of the animal.
African Helmeted Turtle (Pelomedusa subrufa)
The African Helmeted Turtle (Pelomedusa subrufa) is a small reptile found in Niger. The animal is characterized by a thin shell of brown to olive color, a brown to the olive colored head and a gray color on the top of the tail in contrast with a yellow color on the underside. The African Helmeted Turtle is semi-aquatic and lives in marshes, lakes, rivers and rain holes. The animal buries itself in muddy pools during the hot season and moves from mud hole to another waiting for the rainy season.
The animal becomes very aggressive when feeding. It mostly feeds on insects, small crustaceans, snails, and fish. These turtles sometimes work together to drown other reptiles, mammals, and amphibians for food. The animals are captured and sold as pets, a practice which has raised concerns over the disruption of the prey and predator relationships needed in natural ecosystems.
African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis)
The African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis) is another native reptile in Niger. The reptile has a brown to the olive colored shell with white spots that may fade with age. The limbs have three claws and are olive in color with a yellow underside. Males are distinguished by a thicker tail.
The animal is mostly to be found within freshwater lakes and rivers. It feeds on fish, insects, small crustaceans and small mammals. They are omnivorous implying that they also feed on nuts and seeds alongside other animals. The turtles have been targeted by traders who sell them as pets, a situation which has caused their numbers to decrease in some regions.
Other native reptiles of Niger include the African Spurred Tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata), the Ball Python (Python regius), the African Rock Python (Python sebae), and the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus). The illegal trade in reptiles’ skins has increasingly become a concern in Niger. Skins of some of the native reptiles in the country are highly sought after, due to their uniqueness and rarity. High Poverty levels have caused many Niger citizens to be drawn to the lucrative trade.