Malaki Dam lies at 120-250 m on the edge of the Asir foothills, c.15 km east of Abu Arish. The reservoir, used for flood control and irrigation, is fed by the four major wadis of the extreme south-west of Saudi Arabia, with a catchment area extending well into Yemen. High rates of sedimentation have occurred in the reservoir, reducing its depth and expanding the water surface to c.10 km2 at high-water levels. To the north the reservoir is bordered by basaltic lava plains, and several rocky outcrops with hot springs are found on the south side and between the main wadis such as Ain Wakrah. There are a variety of marshy areas near the reservoir and in the lower runs of the four wadis, and huge banks of silt have isolated some permanent and semi-permanent pools from the main reservoir. Many of these banks are covered with Tamarix woodland edged by a lush growth of weeds and sedge. Similar vegetation borders the main wadis, while the wadi beds are cultivated with sorghum whenever the water level allows it. Some of the rocky outcrops are vegetated by palms Phoenix reclinata and Hyphaene, succulent Adenium obesum and the rare tree Acacia alba. Isolated Dobera trees, Acacia scrub and Salvadora bushes are the main vegetation on more open, sandy areas. Much of the surrounding hill area is grazed by livestock.
See box for key species. The dam and its immediate area have one of the highest diversities of breeding birds in Arabia and hold a community representative of the lower Tihamah foothills, including many of the African elements: Terathopius ecaudatus, Turnix sylvatica, Burhinus capensis, Streptopelia semitorquata, Oxylophus jacobinus, Centropus superciliosus, Caprimulgus nubicus, Cypsiurus parvus, Coracias abyssinica, Mirafra cantillans, Anthreptes metallicus, Tchagra senegala and Emberiza tahapisi. Winter visitors include Ciconia nigra (21), Platalea leucorodia (84) and Limosa limosa (233), and large numbers of Ciconia ciconia, Grus grus (187), Plegadis falcinellus and Bubulcus ibis use the site as a roost, feeding mainly on the surrounding agricultural areas and/or rubbish dumps. At least 287 species have been recorded.
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Genetta felina (rare), Canis lupus (V). Reptiles: Coluber manseri (endemic). Fish: the wadi system holds endemic fish which are threatened with local extinction by the large numbers of introduced Tilapia in the reservoir.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site is presently managed by the Ministry of Agriculture through the FAO Agricultural Development Centre, but without major concern for its ecological values. The demands of a growing human population require cultivation of an increasing amount of the land, and large amounts of scrub have been and still are being bulldozed. A newly constructed road to al-Arida has opened the area for development. No data are available on the local use of agricultural pesticides, but there is regular spraying in and around the reservoir to eradicate malaria, and this may threaten the ecosystem. The site is proposed as a Natural Reserve, Biological Reserve and Resource Use Reserve in the NCWCD System Plan for Protected Areas, and was proposed for declaration in 1991, but procedures are presently frozen. This is one of the prime sites for a protected area in Saudi Arabia, and its value to waterbirds could still increase considerably if the water level was managed more sympathetically.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Malaki dam. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 16/01/2021.