Geography
LOCATION
DEPENDENCY
Western Sahara, with a population of 283,000 (1995) and an area of 267,000 square kilometres (103,089 square miles) stretches along the northwestern coast of Africa, and is bordered on the north by Morocco, on the northeast by Algeria, on the east and south by Mauritania, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. A dependency of Morocco, the area was previously called Spanish Sahara. With a hot, arid climate, and composed mostly of rocky and sandy soils, the region is not suitable for agriculture, but nomadic herders raise some sheep, goats, and camels. The territory has rich deposits of phosphates, which are used as fertilizers and in some detergents. In the north, the modern city of El Aaiún, which was the capital of Spanish Sahara, is irrigated so that grains and vegetables can be grown. Most of the people who live in the region are Arab or Berber. In the early 1970s nationalists in Spanish Sahara sought independence for the territory, while Algeria, Mauritania, and Morocco laid claims to it. In late 1975, as Morocco prepared to launch a massive non-violent invasion of Spanish Sahara, Spain ceded the area to Mauritania and Morocco. Two-thirds of the territory was then occupied by Morocco and the rest by Mauritania. Algeria and a group from Western Sahara called the Polisario demanded independence for the area. The Polisario staged several guerrilla raids into Mauritania and Morocco. When Mauritania surrendered its portion and made peace with the Polisario in 1979, Morocco laid claim to all of Western Sahara and continued the war alone. The Polisario-backed Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic received the recognition of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in February 1982, when it was admitted as a member. Under a United Nations (UN)-sponsored peace plan, a truce took effect in Western Sahara in September 1991, with a referendum on self-determination to follow. However, the referendum faced delays. In September 1995 the Polisario named a new 14-member government headed by Mahfoud Ali Larous Beiba. In December 1995 the United Nations Security Council voted to hold a referendum to decide the fate of Western Sahara.
Animals
Greater Flamingo
Phoenicopterus ruber Thousands of these magnificent birds, which stand 1.2 metres (3.9 feet) tall on spindly legs, live together in the shallow brackish lakes and lagoons of southern Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. In Africa, flocks can reach 1 million pairs. The flamingo feeds with its head upside down under water, filtering tiny plants and animals from the water. It constructs nests of heaped mud on the water, leaving the young vulnerable to changes in the water’s level.
Mediterranean Monk Seal
Among seals and sea lions, only the monk seals inhabit waters that are warm year-round. The Caribbean monk seal is believed to be extinct, and the Hawaiian and Mediterranean species are considered extremely rare. It is believed that fewer than 500 Mediterranean monk seals, Monachus monachus, remain, widely scattered among rocky islets and rugged shores that extend from Turkey and Greece to northwest Africa. Like the young of most seals, the monk seal pup grows rapidly. By the age of five or six weeks, it sheds its black, woolly infant coat and soon begins feeding on its own.
Red Fox
Vulpes vulpes A crafty hunter, the red fox is known to charm its prey. It begins its pursuit by playing wildly, chasing its tail and jumping around. Baffled birds and rabbits will stop to watch the antics, not realizing until too late that the fox is drawing nearer. The 60-centimetre (23.6-inch) red fox prefers the wooded and bushy areas across Europe and Asia. It lives in shallow holes and communicates through a wide variety of calls.
Small-spotted Genet
Genetta genetta This swift and graceful catlike mammal is a skilled nighttime hunter. It prefers arid, bushy areas in Spain, southwest France, and Africa, avoiding rain forest and Sahara areas. Upon reaching a new home range, the genet memorizes every twig and branch. It walks its territory slowly at first, gradually increasing its speed until it can run through the area in the dark. Half of the genet’s 1-metre (3.3 foot) length is its tail.
Dromedary Camel
Camelus dromedarius Domesticated some 2,000 to 4,000 years ago for their ability to haul people and cargo, the camel is amazingly well adapted to life in the harsh deserts of Southwest Asia. Its two rows of eyelashes, slit nostrils, and hairy ear openings help keep out sand. While it cannot store water, it can drink more than 160 litres (more than 42 gallons) at a draught, and it can drink sea water. Its urine is highly concentrated, and its dung so dry it can be burned immediately. Camels drop their body temperature at night, which prolongs the heating-up period the next day. No wild camels remain in Asia, though an introduced population has gone feral in Australia.
Desert Jerboa
Jaculus jaculus Resembling a miniature kangaroo, this tan-coloured rodent is well adapted to the deserts of Asia and Africa. It feeds on water-bearing roots in wetter periods, but during droughts, it can live on dry seeds without water for three or more years. Its urine is highly concentrated. In very high temperatures, the jerboa lies dormant in its burrow, which is plugged to block out hot air. Its long rear legs enable it to jump 3 metres (9.8 feet) at a bound and to travel 24 kilometres per hour (14.9 miles per hour).
Song Thrush
Among the thrushes, so many species are renowned for their musical calls that it is unclear why the song thrush, Turdus philomelos, is singled out by name. Like others in the thrush genus, such as the Eurasian blackbird, the fieldfare, and the American robin, the song thrush tends to feed on the ground, where it searches for its invertebrate prey of worms, insects, and snails. The omnivorous song thrush also consumes berries and other fruits, which it gleans from the shrubby undergrowth of forests, parks, and hedgerows throughout Europe and in neighbouring parts of North Africa and the Middle East.