Tadmur desert and mountains

Year of compilation: 2007

Site description
An area of steppe-desert around Tadmur in the centre of Syria, 150 km east of Homs, in a closed basin (c.70 × 35 km), surrounded by limestone and marl hills. There is an isolated oasis to the south of the town with extensive date-palm gardens, and Sabkhat Muh, a seasonally flooded salt-lake up to c.20 km long, lies to the south of the oasis. There are some scattered Tamarix trees around its fringe, and the steppe-desert surrounds are sparsely vegetated with perennial tussock-grass, Chenopodiaceae and Artemisia. The T-3 pumping station (34°31'N 38°45'E), 40 km east of Tadmur on the Iraq–Lebanon oil pipeline, is a small, man-made oasis with a plantation of mature Eucalyptus (c.2 ha), a garden and a sewage pond (c.0.5 ha). The main land-use is grazing livestock. The area is famous for its Roman ruins.

Key biodiversity
This is the last remaining breeding site for the eastern population of the Northern Bald Ibis. A representative assemblage of characteristic desert species occurs, with added interest due to the isolated oasis, surrounding hills and seasonal wetland. See box for key species. Other probable or confirmed breeding species include Buteo rufinus, Aquila chrysaetos, Cursorius cursor, Charadrius leschenaultii, Pterocles alchata, Bubo bubo, Athene noctua, Ammomanes deserti, Alaemon alaudipes, Eremophila bilopha, Oenanthe deserti, O. lugens, Pycnonotus leucotis (c.450 km west of its main range in Iraq) and Corvus corax. The oasis at Tadmur provides the only substantial shelter for migrant birds for 150 km to the north and west and for much further to south and east, and a very wide variety of species are attracted; the oasis is especially important for migrating raptors, e.g. Pernis apivorus, Buteo buteo (roost of 1,500, April), Milvus migrans (roost of 87, April), Circus macrourus and C. pygargus. Wintering species at the salt-lake include Phoenicopterus ruber (90, November) and Grus grus.

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V; probably occurs), Caracal caracal (rare) and Gazella subgutturosa (rare). A few individuals of Sand Gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa marica) are still striving to survive within a rugged section of the protected area. This is most likely one of the two last sites in Syria where this animal, iconic for the Arabic culture, can still be found. In addition of being almost completely extinct in the region, Sand Gazelle is listed as a Vulnerable species globally.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The main threats at the site are human disturbance (especially during Bald Ibis's incubation period), uncontrolled hunting, uncontrolled sheep grazing, and uncontrolled shrub-uprooting for firewood (Serra and Peske 2006b; Jimenez Armesto et al. 2006).

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
(1) 1996-2004. Italian-funded (Italy Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Direzione Generale Cooperazione allo Sviluppo (DGCS)) and UN-FAO-run conservation project (GCP/SYR/009/ITA), based in Palmyra: this project was aimed at assisting the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) to initiate biodiversity conservation in the Syrian desert. The Ibis Protected Area was established under recommendation of the FAO project (Serra 2002).(2) 2005-2007. BirdLife International and Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) assisted MAAR in protecting the Bald Ibis colony and in satellite-tagging 3 individuals (Serra and Peske 2006a).

Protected areas
The Ibis Protected Area was designated in 2004 by the Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR), with an area of c. 230 km2.

Habitat and land use
Stony and sparsely vegetated steppe (over-grazed pastures). The soil, almost lacking organic matter (1%), is composed of a mix of loam, gypsiferous and calcareous rock widely covered by gravel and stones. Sparse perennial dwarf shrubs, not exceeding 20-25 cm in height, are the only vegetation occurring, dominated by Salsola vermiculata. The dwarf shrub Salsola volkensi dominates the annual vegetation component. Annual grasses occur scantly along larger wadi beds, whose dominant vegetation is shrubs of Tamarix spp. The main land-uses are sheep grazing and hunting (100%). The steppe habitat is intensely used by Bedouin indigenous community, belonging to Amur tribe, as pastures for the grazing of their sheep. These people are nomadic or semi-nomadic. The period of the year when these pastures hold the highest density of nomads overlaps with the ibis breeding season. During wet years, the same habitat is visited by thousands of people coming from all over the country to search for much-valued desert truffles.

Land ownership
The land is state-owned since the 1960s (although traditionally used by Amur and other Bedouin tribes).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Tadmur desert and mountains. Downloaded from on 06/05/2021.