Sawa Lake and Area

Year of compilation: 2014

Site description
Sawa Lake is located at the eastern edge of the southern desert close to the Euphrates River. This lake has no inlet or outlet and is fed by groundwater that originates from the higher western desert areas. The only plant cover is scattered low desert shrub and the geology is sedimentary with sandy-clay soil.

Key biodiversity
Additional Important Bird Observations: During the surveys, 25 species were observed in Sawa Lake and the surrounding areas. In addition to the species in the table, The site supported seven Sahara-Sindian Desert biome-restricted species but this did not triggar inclusion under the A3 criterion. the site held large numbers of waterfowl, mainly ducks and Coot Fulica atra, but these did not trigger inclusion under IBA criteria. The endemic race of Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis iraquensis and the Iraqi race of Hooded Crow Corvus cornix capellanus (Mesopotamian Crow) occur, as well as the near-endemic Grey Hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus. Locals and hunters reported the frequent occurrence of “different kinds of raptors” especially in spring and autumn, so the site may be important as a staging area. The desert area on the western side of the lake, the fresh wetland strip (represented by the western branch of Euphrates River including the orchards), and the flat arid/semi-desert areas over the southern parts of the lake might harbor considerable wildlife diversity, but were not well surveyed by the KBA team. According to local reports, mammals present include Rüppell's Fox Vulpes rueppellii, Striped Hyena Hyaena hyaena (Near Threatened), Honey Badger Mellivora capensis, Indian Grey Mongoose Herpestes edwardsii, as well as common species. No fish survey was conducted, but local fishermen reported a variety of species in the lake.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
As Sawa Lake represents a unique, closed water body in Iraq it is an important site for its scientific, educational and biodiversity value. Human intrusion was considered a very high threat because the lake is the only waterbody available for the city of Samawa and its surroundings and the picnic activities in and around the lake. It is a popular picnic area and this has caused a great deal of garbage accumulation around the lake. There appears to be no effort by visitors or government to manage or remove garbage from the site. Over-exploitation of species due to unsustainable fishing and bird hunting is also a very high threat. In addition, because there is no plant cover on the lake (reedbeds, etc), water birds have few places toshelter from visitors or hunters. A high threat also comes from urban expansion (the team was informed that an investment project might involve new construction around the lake). Other threats (agriculture, transportation & service corridors, resource extraction, and pollution) were considered medium.

Habitat and land use
Most of the delineated area consists of desert and semi-desert with scattered desert shrubs, while the lake itself forms a small portion of the site. Local people reported that the original size and depth of the lake wee greater than currently, and this is likely due to declining underground waters in the region. There was a small area of construction for a recreational center on the southeastern corner of the lake but this complex appeared to be abandoned by the time of the survey. A short stretch of the Euphrates runs through the northern edge of the site.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Sawa Lake and Area. Downloaded from on 25/06/2021.