Asmara escarpment

Country/territory: Eritrea

IBA Criteria met: A1, A2, A3 (2001)
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Area: 26,000 ha

Site description
A number of records from the Durfo and Adi Nefas escarpments, which lie respectively 5–6 km and 10 km north-east of Asmara city, show that this general area qualifies as an IBA. Records from Asmara itself are also included on the basis that species recorded in parks and gardens in the city are likely to occur elsewhere in the adjacent area at the same altitude. There are also records (including a number of globally threatened species) from various plateau dams near Asmara, which suggest that these might qualify as a separate IBA, or help to define the boundaries of an IBA including both the escarpment and the dams. Records from Acria Dam (3 km north-east of Asmara city) are included in this site account and relevant tables. Records from plateau dams generally or other named wetlands (e.g. Lakes Madrezien and Delia, which are further distant from Asmara) are noted by named location under ‘Birds’ below. Further work will be required to identify the boundaries of one or more IBAs adjacent to Asmara. The habitat consists of rough, stony moorland and rocky hillsides, scrubby tussock-grassland (Rumex nervosa and Argemone mexicana) and Juniperus procera woodland. To the east of the site, the escarpment drops away rapidly towards the Eastern Plain. Exotic Eucalyptus is widely grown in the parks and gardens in Asmara. There are a number of small reservoirs (with Rumex sp. swamps at the margins), near to and supplying Asmara. These, together with scattered small lakes and marshes (most, if not all, temporary and seasonal) provide the only wetland areas on the plateau.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 2 for key species. Falco naumanni was observed near the village of Adi Nefas, within the site, in 1998 (five individuals) and again at the same place in 2000 (35–40 individuals), suggesting that this species is ‘regularly-occurring’. Aquila clanga was observed at this IBA in 2000 (one individual in a flock of several A. nipalensis). There are a number of other globally-threatened species records from moorland and wetlands close to Asmara, all from the 1940s and 1950s. These include Geronticus eremita reported as a casual visitor to ‘The Plateau’ and on the ‘main reservoir’ c.30 km from Asmara in the 1940s and large numbers in ‘the Massawa/Asmara region’ in the 1950s. Circus macrourus was reported as a regular wintering species over the moors on ‘The Plateau’, together with Falco tinnunculus. Rougetius rougetii has bred on Lake Mandrezien (c.15 km north-north-west of Asmara), and Aythya nyroca was reported to winter in small numbers (‘up to 40’) on the plateau dams, mainly Lake Delia (c.24 km north of Asmara). More recently (in 1998), Emberiza cineracea has been reported wintering at Acria Dam. The restricted-range Myrmecocichla melaena is reported as frequent at the top of the escarpment before Asmara (approaching from the east on the road from Massawa), where it can be seen diving off culverts beside the road into the gorges beneath (Hillman pers. comm., Azaria pers. comm.). Three of the 16 Afrotropical Highlands biome species (Bostrychia carunculata, Serinus citrinelloides and S. xanthopygius) have been recorded only from this IBA and one other in the country and a 17th species of this biome (Estrilda melanotis) is recorded from Lake Delia, close to the site on the Central Plateau. One of the Somali–Masai biome species, Caprimulgus fraenatus, is recorded from no other IBA. One Sahel biome species, Trachyphonus margaritatus, is recorded from the site; see Table 2. There are records (from Smith) of other waterbirds and waders using ‘the Plateau Dams’ and associated seasonal marshland, including Podiceps ruficollis as a common resident and ‘great numbers of non-passerine migrants, Ciconiidae, Anatidae, Charadriidae, Scolopacidae, Laridae etc.’ and the site, in common with many areas along the eastern escarpment, also appears to attract a wide range of raptors. A record of an individual Tyto alba in 2000 near Asmara airport appears to be the first confirmed record for the country since Smith (1957) declared the species to be extinct in Eritrea (Zinner pers. comm.).

Non-bird biodiversity: Baboons Papio hamadryas (LR/nt) are common along the road between Massawa and Asmara.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Asmara escarpment. Downloaded from on 02/12/2021.