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Wadi El Rayan was originally an arid desert depression located to the south-west of Fayoum, with an average elevation of 43 m below sea-level and a maximum depth of 64 m below sea-level. As of 1973, excess drainage water from Fayoum was diverted into the depression, flooding large parts of it. Two large lakes were formed as a result. The first lake reached its current level of 5 m below sea-level in 1978. The second lake, which lies at a lower elevation, has a current estimated water-level of 20 m below sea-level and is still in the process of filling. It is expected that the water-level in the lake will be allowed to reach 13 m below sea-level. About 0.25 km³ of drainage-water reaches the lakes of Wadi El Rayan annually (salinity 1 g/l). This is carried through a canal and a tunnel, which link the first lake and El Wadi Drain and flows from the first lake to the second via a shallow, swampy canal and a small waterfall. Because water-levels in the first lake have been stable for a considerable length of time, a very dense growth of Phragmites and Tamarix has developed along the shores of this lake. In contrast, the second lake has scant cover along its shores because of the constantly, though slowly, rising level of water in it. Salinity is also rising slowly in the second lake (which has no outflow) as a result of evaporation. The salt-level in the lake is currently about 2.5 g/l, but it is only a matter of time before it becomes as saline as Lake Qarun. Salinity is expected to remain stable in the first lake, since it is constantly flushed. The lakes of Wadi El Rayan produced an average of 477 tonnes of fish annually between 1980 and 1990, composed mostly of Tilapia sp. and Mugil sp.
See Box for key species. The lakes of Wadi El Rayan have become fairly important wintering grounds for waterbirds and appear to be increasing in importance. A total of 12,600 waterbirds were counted in January 1995. Most numerous were Podiceps cristatus, Podiceps nigricollis, Aythya fuligula, Aythya ferina and Fulica atra. The second lake holds more waterbirds than the first, because of its larger size and its greater isolation. The second lake also supports a substantial breeding population of Porphyrio porphyrio. Other breeding species include Tachybaptus ruficollis, Ixobrychus minutus, Egretta garzetta, Gallinula chloropus and Acrocephalus stentoreus. The desert habitats of Wadi El Rayan spring area also hold a number of Sahara–Sindian biome restricted species. At least four of these species are known or are expected to breed in the area. These are Falco concolor, Bubo ascalaphus, Oenanthe lugens and Alaemon alaudipes.
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: four threatened mammals are found in the desert habitats of Wadi El Rayan. Gazella leptoceros (EN) occurred until the mid-1980s, but has probably become locally extirpated. Gazella dorcas (VU) is still found in the area in small numbers, but is rapidly declining. Both Vulpes zerda (DD) and Vulpes rueppelli (DD) are scarce and are also declining due to illegal hunting.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Wadi El Rayan Protected Area. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 21/04/2021.