What do a gazelle that can survive without drinking water, a bearded vulture that drops bones from the air to break them open to the marrow, a "swamp cat," coral reefs, and an ancient "tree of love" have in common? They're all species that are native to Egypt -- and now endangered.
Amid all the upheaval in the country -- a popular uprising and upcoming elections, just for a start -- the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm is doing an admirable job keeping the fate of Egypt's natural resources from falling off the radar with its ongoing series on endangered flora and fauna.Barbary Sheep Victims of Hunting And Poaching
The most recent segment features the Barbary sheep, or aoudad (top), which once roamed across nearly the entire country but has dwindled so much in population that it was widely believed to be extinct in Egypt only a decade ago. Perhaps just a few hundred remain in the wild, largely due to hunting and poaching, which are rarely regulated even in national parks where such practices are officially banned.
“The new national park has no patrol of rangers and ... the region is so big and remote that it’s difficult to enforce patrolling. It’s very difficult to protect the animals in the wild,” wildlife biologist Francesco Germi told the paper.
Enforcement of Environmental Laws Lacking
The lack of enforcement of protection laws is a common thread running through many of the stories. Of the three species of gazelle that used to be found in Egypt, the Arabian gazelle is thought to have completely disappeared and perhaps as few as 100 slender-horned gazelles -- which can get all the water they need from desert shrubs and bushes -- may remain. The most common, the Dorcas gazelle, is threatened by habitat destruction and "hunting practices that involve 4-wheel drive [vehicles] and high-powered rifles,” according to British naturalist Richard Hoath.
"The legislation exists to protect wildlife in Egypt; what is sorely lacking is enforcement,” Hoath, who authored A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt, told the paper.
The six species of vultures found in Egypt are also becoming an increasingly rare sight due to poaching, poisoning, power lines, and the decline of traditional prey species such as gazelles. Egypt's wild cats, including the swamp or jungle cat, are meanwhile threatened by habitat destruction, interbreeding with domestic cats, trapping, and smuggling.
Fig And Palm Trees At Risk
Non-animal species face challenges too: The argun palm, present in Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs, is on the verge of extinction due to overuse and climate change, while the sycamore fig (above) -- known to the ancients as the "tree of love" -- can no longer propagate itself naturally since the wasp that used to pollinate it became extinct.
Properly managed, all these species provide benefit to people, directly or in terms of ecosystem services or as eco-tourism draws, a resource Egyptians would do well to protect as they move their country forward into what will hopefully be a brighter future.
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