Qara Dagh

Site description (2014 baseline):

Site location and context
This area consists of a mountain ridge with rocky slopes and many gorges and valleys The ridge is over 100 km long and runs from northwest to southeast, but the survey area encompasses only about half of the ridge, primarily the southeastern part. A paved road traverses the ridge. There is also at least one deep cave system, Kuna Ba, within the Qara Dagh range. An important archeological site is also located in Qara Dagh, which consists of an ancient rock carving along a stream, which is now part of a water diversion project related to oil development. The geology of the area was sedimentary and the soil type was clay. There are farmland and villages nearby (primarily around the base of the ridge but there are some houses on the ridge itself.

Key biodiversity
Additional Important Bird Observations: During the surveys a total of 87 species was recorded. In addition to those listed in the table the site also held breeding White-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus leucotis, a Sahara-Sindian Desert biome-restricted species. The Eastern Cinereous Bunting Emberiza semenowi mentioned in the table above is Near Threatened. Other Important Fauna: Data collected on 2007-2010 surveys found field signs of a considerable number of the Muridae family that remain unidentified. Wild Goats Capra aegagrus (Vulnerable) were the subject of a specific study in 2011. A Persian Leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor (Endangered) was camera-trapped during the survey, which was the first photographic record of the species in Iraq. Wild Cat Felis silvestris, Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Red Fox Vulpes vulpes, Indian Crested Porcupine Hystrix indica, Wild Boar Sus scrofa, and Persian Squirrel Sciurus anomalus were also camera-trapped. Grey Wolf Canis lupus, Goitered Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa (Vulnerable), Indian Grey Mongoose Herpestes edwardsii, and Jungle Cat Felis chaus are likely present. It is also likely that a variety of bat species inhabit the Kuna Ba cave system and other caves. Iraq’s mammal checklist includes several bats of conservation concern but these species are poorly studied. Fish: Surveys were only conducted in 2007 and 2008 (summer), and three species were found. Two significant species, according to Coad (2010) were Alburnus mossulensis and Garra rufa. The conservation status in Iraq of the third species, Capoeta damascina, is unknown. Additional Plant & Habitat Information: Qara Dagh contains a good population of Pistacia eurycarpa and P. khinjuk, which are culturally and economically important, as well as Arum conophalloides, Anchusa italica, Crataegus azarolus, Gundelia tournefortii, and Rumex ribes, which are economically important as traditional food plants. Also Aegilops crassa, A. columnaris, A. umbellulata, Bromus danthoniae, B. brachystachys, Hordeum bulbosum, and Triticum aestivum are important genetic resources.

Habitat and land use
The site contains mountain riverine forest and relatively dense oak woodlands. A water quality sampling point was located at the base of the ridge in another stream coming from Kani Bajga, which is spring fed. Past water sampling has shown that the water flow in the valley below can be very slow or stagnant and the site was dry in winter 2009 at the end of a period of drought. The stream riparian is well vegetated but in general the area is rocky. Plant decomposition and trash were observed in and around the water. The entire area attracts many picnickers, particularly in spring.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Industrial and oil development present the most serious threats to Qara Dagh. In 2010 oil drilling began, which has led to increased utilization of ground and surface water. A representative of the company indicated that the entire range would be dedicated to oil development. This poses the most serious threat, though with proper planning and oversight, oil exploration can coincide with development of the site as a protected area. Another resource extraction threat is limestone quarrying with related road construction that is causing erosion and threatens the Kuna Ba cave. Finally a dam is under construction just east of Kuna Ba cave that will affect the stream flowing along the northeast base of Qara Dagh and may negatively impact biodiversity. In 2008 and 2009 the area experienced a period of drought, which led to low water conditions (water quality sampling was attempted at the site from 2007 to 2009). In 2008, the target area showed heavy metal contamination in the sediments, particularly cadmium, zinc and nickel. In 2009, also copper and manganese were elevated above Iraqi standards. Qara Dagh is also seriously impacted by illegal hunting, which is widely practiced. According to locals, hunting has led to a decline in the status of wildlife, particularly large mammals, such as the Wild Goat Capra aegagrus. This area is also impacted by grazing; urbanization, including road construction and installation of electrical poles along six kilometers of the road; and trash from tourists, all of which have caused some level of damage and/or fragmentation of the landscape. However, it is presently still in overall good condition and there are many endemic and rare plants in addition to important bird species.

Protected areas
This area has previously been recommended as a site that should receive additional protection (Nature Iraq and Iraqi Ministry of Environment, 2010). If this site is identified as a future protected area, funds should be made available for a more comprehensive and targeted survey to assess the site in more detail and build a comprehensive inventory of its resources (both natural and social-economic).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Qara Dagh. Downloaded from on 22/09/2023.