El Qasr desert

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
A vast, flat, sand-and-gravel plain, with scattered clay pans, which forms part of El Diffa Miocene Plateau. Several low limestone ridges run east–west across the plain and gradually raise the flat landscape to an elevation of 200 m. Fairly dense desert scrub is dominated in the northern part by Thymelaea and in the south by Anabasis and Hamada, with scattered Lycium bushes. Annual rainfall is fairly high, averaging about 140 mm near the coast. Rainfall and density of vegetation decrease steeply southwards, and severe desert conditions prevail more than 70 km from the coastline. The area represents a fairly undisturbed example of a unique and restricted habitat in Egypt: the Mediterranean coastal steppe, a habitat that is being lost and degraded very rapidly.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 2 for key species. The area falls on the boundary between the Mediterranean and Sahara–Sindian biomes; thus, it supports species restricted to both biomes. It is the only IBA in Egypt selected on the basis of the occurrence of Mediterranean North Africa biome-restricted species. Four species, representing all of Egypt’s Mediterranean North Africa biome-restricted species, are found in this IBA. On the other hand, the four Sahara–Sindian biome-restricted species found in the area represent only 19% of Egypt’s assemblage of these species.

Ornithologically, this is one of the least known regions of Egypt. In the past few years Ramphocoris clotbey was found breeding in the area, for the first time in Egypt. Very large and previously unrecorded breeding populations of Calandrella rufescens were discovered. A small, hitherto unknown, breeding population of Oenanthe lugens (apparently of the race halophila) was also discovered. Other species known from the area include: Cursorius cursor, Oenanthe deserti, Galerida cristata and Corvus ruficollis. Ramphocoris clotbey, Chersophilus duponti and Oenanthe moesta do not occur in any other Egyptian IBA. A flock of about 150 Charadrius morinellus was seen in the area in spring 1994, indicating that potentially large numbers of this species might winter in the region. The area held good numbers of the nominate, North African race of Chlamydotis undulata until recently, but the local population has been decimated by Arab hunters. The species still occurs, but breeding is localized and rare.

Non-bird biodiversity: Reptiles: small numbers of Testudo kleinmanni (EN) may still exist in the region. Mammals: Allactaga tetradactyla (EN), Jaculus orientalis (LR/nt) and Eliomys melanurus (LR/nt) are present in the more densely vegetated coastal region. Gazella dorcas (VU) used to be common in this region, but has declined sharply as a result of excessive hunting.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site has been proposed for protection as a Protected Area. The whole coastal desert of the Mediterranean, west of Alexandria, is severely overgrazed, and is subjected to intensive rain-based cultivation and development pressures. Large areas of desert are ploughed and cleared of their vegetation cover in order to grow winter cereals. After the crop is harvested in spring or early summer, the desert is left barren, devoid of any cover. Overgrazing further compounds the problem by degrading remaining patches of natural vegetation.

Hunting and falconry, mostly by Gulf Arabs, has had a profound impact on all wildlife in the region. Gazelles and Chlamydotis undulata have been the worst affected, as they are the main quarries for these hunters. Off-road vehicle use by hunters, the military and Bedouins, is contributing in a major way to the degradation of natural habitats in this region.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: El Qasr desert. Downloaded from on 24/03/2023.