The site lies in the Western Plain, c.30 km south-east of Tessenei and just south of the Gash river. It lies on the lowland plain between the two main rivers which flow westwards out of Eritrea into Sudan (the Gash and the Setit). The Gash and other smaller rivers crossing the Western Plain flow only during the rainy season (June to September) but dry out and cease to flow at other times of year. The area from just north of the Gash river, south to the Setit river has fertile soils and there is fairly extensive cultivation (especially on the so-called ‘cotton soils’ in the river valleys). There are dry, sandy plains with protruding granite domes and the vegetation is principally Acacia sp. savanna and Acacia–Zizyphus sp. woodland, with Adansonia, Balanites and Capparis spp. Riparian vegetation includes Hyphaene, Tamarindus, Tamarix, Adansonia, Ficus, Acacia, Zizyphus, Salvadora, Leptadenia, Calotropis and occasionally Kigelia spp. There are extensive and economically important stands of doum palm Hyphaene thebaica along the Gash river. When the rains are heavy, these areas form temporary swamps.An artificial marsh has been created alongside the Gash river for irrigated agriculture (especially millet) in the region of Tessenei, known as Ali Ghider marshes. This area is unique in Eritrea because of the size and near-permanence of the marshes (all other areas of marsh and swamp in the country are seasonal and dependent on annual rains). Bird records from marshes in the region of Tessenei are included in the site account here, even though some of these may be from areas outside the proposed boundary (e.g. Ali Ghider marshes lie c.15 km west of Tessenei). However, since many records do not specify an actual location, but only the general area, and the seasonal swamps occur along the length of the lower Gash river, it is considered valid to include these records on the basis that these species are likely also to occur on marshy areas within the site. The Ministry of Agriculture confirms that an Acacia nilotica forest on the river in the vicinity of Ali Ghider appears still to have large populations of waterbirds. Further survey work will be required to determine the exact boundaries of the IBA, to confirm a bird list for the site and to determine whether some of the other marsh areas outside the IBA merit selection as IBAs in their own right. For present purposes, the boundaries of the old Gash–Setit Wildlife Reserve have been used to define the IBA (as marked in published references).
See Box and Table 2 for key species. Circus macrourus was said to be a regular visitor to ‘the Western Plain’ (no specific location) and Vanellus gregarious was reported from the edge of the Taccaze (Setit) river, although not specifically from the Gash–Setit IBA; both records from the 1950s.Many of the biome-restricted species records from Smith are inferred (i.e. the species is reported generally from ‘the Western Plain’ in habitats and at altitudes known to occur within the site) rather than specifically mentioning Gash–Setit as the named location. The six Sahel biome species include Anthoscopus punctifrons (recorded only from this site and ER001). The Sudan–Guinea Savanna biome species include Falco alopex (‘widespread and common throughout the Western Plains’ in the 1950s) and Turdoides leucocephalus, recorded only from this site and ER001. There are also records of Pterocles lichtensteinii (Sahara–Sindian biome) and six species of the Somali–Masai biome; see Table 2.Other records from the 1940s and 1950s also show that areas of marshland in the region of the IBA (whether due to natural floods or artificial irrigation) can be of considerable importance for Palearctic migrants, including (in August 1942) 200 Anas crecca, ‘plenty’ of Calidris minuta, ‘plentiful’ Tringa hypoleucos and ‘common’ T. stagnatilis.
Non-bird biodiversity: Among mammals, Loxodonta africana (EN) (about 30), Tragelaphus strepsiceros (LR/cd), Gazella dorcas (VU), and G. rufifrons (VU) are all known to exist within the proposed new National Park and/or surrounding area. Taurotragus oryx and Alcelaphus buselaphus tora (LR/cd) are also thought to still occur. The original game reserve was established to protect these, together with populations of Syncerus caffer (LR/cd), Hippotragus equinus (LR/cd), Giraffa camelopardalis (LR/cd), Panthera leo (VU) and Panthera pardus, but these latter populations are now likely to be extinct.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The original Gash–Setit Game Reserve is not recognized by the current Eritrean government, but the importance of the area for wildlife (especially mammals and birds) is fully recognized and the area is one of four priority areas under consideration for designation as new protected areas (probably as National Parks). The riverine woodland, dominated by Acacia spp. with Hyphaene thebaica and Tamarix aphylla, is considered to be a habitat of particular conservation concern. Government surveys have ascertained that much of the habitat remains intact and that populations of Loxodonta africana, Tragelaphus strepsiceros, Gazella dorcas, G. rufifrons, and possibly Taurotragus oryx and Alcelaphus buselaphus tora, still remain in the area. However, there are considerable threats; areas of the riverine doum-palm habitat have already been cleared for agriculture and there is increasing pressure both for new agricultural land and for grazing land for nomadic and settled pastoralists. There are refugee resettlement camps in the area of Tessenei and the demand for land is expected to increase with the return of more refugees from neighbouring Sudan.
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Western Plain: Gash - Setit. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 17/05/2022.