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A dune sea (Erg) between Fachi and Bilma.

The Ténéré is a desert region in the south central Sahara. It comprises a vast plain of sand stretching from northeastern Niger into western Chad, occupying an area of over 154,440 square miles (400,000 km²). Its boundaries are said to be the Aïr Mountains in the west, the Hoggar Mountains in the north, the Djado Plateau in the northeast, the Tibesti Mountains in the east, and the basin of Lake Chad in the south. The central part of the desert, the Erg du Bilma, is centered at approximately 17°35′N 10°55′E / 17.583°N 10.917°E / 17.583; 10.917. [1]



The name Ténéré comes from the Tuareg language, meaning "desert", in much the same way that the Arabic word for "desert", Sahara, came to be applied to the region as a whole.[2]


The Ténéré is arid, with an extremely hot and dry climate and virtually no plant life. Temperatures reach as high as 42 °C (108 °F) in the summer, with little more than 25 mm (1 in) of rain annually. Water is notoriously difficult to find, even underground, and wells may be hundreds of miles apart.


Fragment of Ténéré's dune seas seen from space

Most of the Ténéré is a flat basin, once the bed of the prehistoric Lake Chad. In the north, the Ténéré is a vast sand sheet - the true, featureless 'Ténéré' of legend reaching up to the low hills of the Tassili du Hoggar along the Algerian border. In the centre the Bilma Erg, forms rows of easily navigable low dunes whose corridors make regular byways for the azelai or salt caravans. To the west, the Aïr Mountains rise up. To the south east the Ténéré is bordered by the Kaour cliffs running 100 km north to south. At the base lie a string of oases including the famous Bilma The total eclipse of March 2006 passed through this region at which time people in Dirkou were seen running for the mosque. Periodic outcrops, such as the unusual marble Blue Mountains in the northwest near Adrar Chiriet, or the Agram hills near the oasis of Fachi and Adrar Madet to the north, are rare but notable landmarks.


The region was not always a desert. During the prehistoric Carboniferous period it was a sea floor and later a tropical forest. A major dinosaur cemetery lies southeast of Agadez at Gadoufaoua; many fossils have been found there, having eroded out from the ground. An almost complete specimen of the crocodile-like reptile Sarcosuchus imperator, nicknamed the SuperCroc, was discovered there by paleontologists.

During early human history, it was a fertile land much more congenial to human life than it is now. The region was inhabited by modern humans as long ago as the Paleolithic period some 60,000 years ago. They hunted wild animals and left evidence of their presence in the form of stone tools including tiny, finely carved arrow heads. During the Neolithic period about 10,000 years ago, ancient hunters, the Kiffian people, created rock engravings and paintings that can still be found across the region. The human population dwindled as the Sahara dried out, and by 2500 BC it had largely become as dry as it is today.


The Kaouar cliffs, near Bilma, which forms a chain of oases in the eastern Ténéré.

The Ténéré is very sparsely populated. Fachi is the only settlement that is not on the edge of the Tenere.

While the well known Tuareg occupy the Aïr Mountains and Agadez to the west, and still operate the salt caravans for Hausa merchants, the true inhabitants of the Ténéré, found from oases like Fachi eastwards, are the non-Berber Kanure and Tebu, the latter thought to be descended from among the original inhabitants of the Sahara.


In 1960 the Tuareg territory become part of the independent republic of Niger. It has been divided between seven départments. The central part of the Ténéré is a protected area, under the auspices of the Aïr and Ténéré Natural Reserve.


The "capital" of the Ténéré is the town of Agadez, south of the Aïr Mountains and west of the Tenere. There are also various oasis settlements, some like Bilma and Seguedine based on salt production.

Settlements and villages of Ténéré:

The Arbre du Ténéré (tree of Ténéré)


The desert is also known for the celebrated Tree of Ténéré, once thought to be among the most remote in the world. Situated by the last well before entering the Grand Erg du Bilma on the way to Fachi, salt caravans relied on the tree as a landmark until it was allegedly knocked down by a truck driver in 1973. It was replaced by a metal sculpture and the remains are enshrined at the museum in Niamey (capital of Niger). New trees were planted but, because of the very low water table (the adjacent well is some 40m deep), irregular watering by passing travellers saw them fail to survive. Despite this unfortunate mishap, the tree is still often indicated on maps of the region as a notable landmark, as is the less well known Arbre Perdu (Lost Tree) situated in the true Tenere to the north, east of Chirfa.

See also


  1. ^ The Ténéré was featured in a Discovery Travel & Living documentary ("Journeys to the Ends of the Earth: The Land of Fear").
  2. ^ Decalo, p.222. Geels and other sources give the Tamasheq meaning as "Desert beyond the desert".
  • Samuel Decalo. Historical Dictionary of Niger. Scarecrow Press, London and New Jersey (1979). ISBN 0810812290
  • Jolijn Geels. Niger. Bradt London and Globe Pequot New York (2006). ISBN 1841621528.
  • Chris Scott. Sahara Overland. Trailblazer (2004). ISBN 1873756763.


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