Savage Islands

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The Savage Islands (in Portuguese: Ilhas Selvagens) form a small archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean between Madeira (280 km) and the Canary Islands (165 km). The archipelago comprises two islands and several islets. These islands represent the extreme south of Portugal.

Officially the archipelago forms part of Madeira, but the Portuguese government has undertaken a study to set up a municipality (concelho) for the islands (the islands have only a single inhabitant, a guard).



As with all the Macaronesian islands, the Savages have volcanic origins.

The first recorded official discovery of the Savage Isles dates from 1438: Diogo Gomes de Sintra sighted them when returning to Portugal from Guinea, eighteen years after the discovery of Madeira. At that time, the Portuguese discoverers consistently expanded the horizons of European knowledge.

Although remote and isolated, the islands have received official visits from two Portuguese heads of state, Mario Soares and Jorge Sampaio, to reinforce the claim of Portuguese national sovereignty and to highlight the area's status as a national reserve.


Missing image
Map of the Savage Islands.

The two islands of the archipelago sometimes count as islets, but both the Portuguese government and international specialists classify them as islands.

The archipelago consists of two groups. The Northeast Group comprises Selvagem Grande Island and two smaller islets, Palheiro da Terra and Palheiro do Mar islets. The Southeast Group comprises Selvagem Pequena Island and the Fora Islet among numerous smaller islets, including the Alto, the Comprido, the Redondo Islets and also the tiny group of the Norte Islets. An extensive barrier reef surrounds the archipelago and makes it difficult to anchor on the islands' shores. The points include Atalaia, Leste on Selgavem Grande and Norte, Oeste, Leste and Garajaus on Selvagem Pequena. The peaks include Atalaia, Tornozelos and Veado.

The Selvagem Grande and Selvagem Pequena islands lie 15 km apart. The archipelago has a total area of 273 hectares (2.73 km²);. Two countries smaller in area than the Savages exist: the Vatican City (44 hectares) and Monaco (195 hectares).

Climate and Environment

The temperatures in the Savage Islands exceed those in Madeira and the sea temperature remains comfortable all year round. Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said he found the cleanest waters in the world there. In 2003 these islands were selected to be the national candidates for the UNESCO World Heritage List. Visitors require special authorization from the Parque Natural da Madeira, a Portuguese regional environmental authority.

In 1971, Portugal declared the islands a reserve (Reserva das Selvagens) that includes not only the submerged areas but also the surrounding shelf to a depth of 200 metres. Its permanent surveillance began in 1976. Two years later, the Savage Isles were declared a Natural Reserve. The scientific and natural interest of this tiny group of islands lies not only in sea birds such as the White-faced Storm-petrel and Bulwer's Petrel that breed there, but also in its marine biodiversity and unique flora. Annual scientific expeditions visit the islands.

The Savages host 150 species of plants, most of them creepers. The richest islands in flora are the Selvagem Pequena Island and Fora Islet because they have never suffered the introduction of non-indigenous animals or plants. The islands have become known as a sanctuary for birds: several species breed there. The Roseate Tern Sterna dougalli (in Portuguese: Garajau Rosado) also nests on the islands.

External links

ca:Illes Selvagens es:Islas_Salvajes de:Ilhas Selvagens pt:Ilhas Selvagens


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