The tourist resort of Elat lies in the Rift Valley at the head of the Gulf of Elat (Gulf of Aqaba) flanked by mountains, with the Moon Valley and the plateau of the Negev to the west and the Arava valley running off to the north-north-west. The site comprises the region of the Arava valley from Elat to the area of Yotvata c.40 km to the north, and includes the western (Israeli) half of the valley floor and the ridge of the 'Elat Mountains'. The climate is arid (less than 50 mm rainfall per year), and rocky areas and gravel plains may be almost without vegetation, but sandy areas, especially wadis, support large bushes and, after rain, grasses and annual herbs. Large wadis and their alluvial fans support open woodland of Acacia tortilis and A. raddiana, notably just south of Yotvata, and here a few presumably native Phoenix dactylifera also grow where water is close to the surface. There is a tiny relict group of Hyphaene thebaica at En Evrona. Other habitats include beaches, agricultural fields, saltpans, sewage ponds and Phragmites; a saltmarsh with large Suaeda bushes has now almost disappeared.
Elat is a key site for migration through the Middle East, and very large numbers of all types of bird pass through the area in both spring and autumn. Over 420 species have been recorded. Of prime importance are raptors: 1.2 million have been counted in a single spring season and 26,000 in autumn, and the flyway is especially concentrated for Pernis apivorus (see box), Milvus migrans (max. seasonal total 31,774), Accipiter brevipes (see box), Buteo buteo vulpinus (max. seasonal total 465,827) and Aquila nipalensis (max. seasonal total 75,053). Migrant Chlidonias leucopterus also occur in especially high numbers. Numbers of migrating Pelecanus onocrotalus and Ciconia nigra are highest in spring, and seasonal totals from the Moon Valley are given (see box). Other breeding species include Aquila verreauxii (not proven: records of 1-2 birds), Falco pelegrinoides (1-2 pairs), Pterocles lichtensteinii and Eremalauda dunni (0-20 pairs, last bred 1989).
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Pipistrellus bodenheimeri (rare endemic), Barbastella leucomelas (rare), Canis lupus (V), Vulpes cana (K), Vulpes zerda (K), Caracal caracal (rare), Felis margarita (rare), Capra nubiana (I), Gazella gazella (V) and G. dorcas (V). Reptiles: Coluber sinai (endemic). Flora: Paracaryum intermedium, Gomphocarpus sinaicus, Ephedra alata, Centaurea scoparia.
Data-sheet compiled by S. Blitzblau, reviewed by R. Frumkin.
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Southern Arava valley and Elat mountains. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/02/2023.