IBA criteria met: A3 (1999)
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Area: 435,000 ha
Nature Conservation Eqypt
Site description (2001 baseline)
The St Katherine Protectorate occupies much of the central part of South Sinai, a mountainous region of Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rock, which includes Egypt’s highest peaks: Gebel Katherina (2,641 m), Gebel Um Shomar (2,586 m), Gebel El Thabt (2,439 m), Gebel Musa (2,280 m) and Gebel Serbal (2,070 m). These mountains are intersected by a complex network of deeply cut wadis, draining eastward to the Gulf of Aqaba and westward to the Gulf of Suez. The most important of these are Wadi Feiran, Wadi Hibran, Wadi Isla, Wadi Nasb and Wadi Zaghra.
Mean annual rainfall is 62 mm, falling mostly in spring and autumn. Precipitation occasionally exceeds 300 mm in areas above 1,600 m, where it falls mostly as snow. In winter, temperatures fall as low as 10°C at higher elevations. This relatively high precipitation gives rise to a diversity of plant and animal life, making the high mountains of central South Sinai one of the richest terrestrial areas for biodiversity in the country.This relatively mountainous environment supports a diverse and unique assemblage of plants. About 1,000 plant species, representing almost 40% of Egypt’s total flora, are found in this region. These include many Irano–Turanian relicts and several endemic species. The dwarf shrub Artemisia is perhaps the most prominent floral component of the landscape of the St Katherine area, being dominant or co-dominant in almost all plant communities at higher altitudes.Four primary avian habitat-types can be identified in the National Park: mountains, wadis, plains and oases. Mountain habitat includes hilly country and slopes, as well as narrow small wadis, gullies and ravines. These are usually poorly vegetated at lower elevations, although higher up very thin vegetation cover shrouds the mountain slopes and diversity is fairly high. Wadis contain much of the vegetation in the region. However, frequent flash floods render many of the narrow wadis and torrent beds plantless. Several plains and plateaus are found at high altitude. Elwat El Agramya is one of the largest. Some wadi beds, particularly at lower elevations, are very wide and plain-like. The largest and best-known oasis is Feiran. Many orchards and small areas of cultivation are scattered in wadis, particularly at higher elevations. They form an important part of the region’s landscape. The National Park has many outstanding cultural and religious landmarks. The Monastery of St Katherine and Mount Sinai (Gebel Musa) are the most famous.
See Box and Table 2 for key species. The resident bird community of the St Katherine Protectorate includes the majority of Egypt’s Sahara–Sindian biome-restricted species. Many of these species are not well represented or are not present at all in any other IBA in Egypt.
The St Katherine region is an outpost for several species that have larger ranges elsewhere. These are Aquila verreauxii, Onychognathus tristramii, Corvus rhipidurus and, most remarkably, Carpodacus synoicus, which has its main area of distribution in Central Asia. Gypaetus barbatus, Hieraaetus fasciatus and Aquila chrysaetos probably still breed in very small numbers, although there is no recent evidence of nesting.
Non-bird biodiversity: Flora: Nearly half of the 33 known Sinai endemics are found in the St Katherine area; many are rare and endangered. Insects: the butterflies Satyrium jebelia and Pseudophilotes sinaicus are endemic to the region, generally in areas above 1,800 m. Reptiles: Coluber sinai and Telescopus hoogstraali are two snakes endemic to South Sinai and the Negev. Mammals: Canis lupus still occurs in very small numbers. Vulpes cana (DD) has recently been discovered, but is rare. Vulpes rueppelli (DD) is fairly common. Panthera pardus probably became locally extirpated earlier this century, but there are recent indications that a few individuals might still exist. Gazella dorcas (VU) has declined sharply and is subject to heavy persecution. Capra nubiana (EN) is a prominent mammal species, which can still be seen regularly.