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South-west Arabian mountains
Country/Territory Saudi Arabia,Yemen
Area 150,000 
Altitude 1,200 - 3,600m  
Priority urgent 
Habitat loss moderate 
Knowledge incomplete 

General characteristics 

This EBA comprises the Asir mountains of south-west Saudi Arabia and the highlands of southern and western Yemen. In the west, just inland and east of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, an escarpment rises to a high plateau, which drops to the sandy Rub' al Khali (or Empty Quarter) in the interior of southern Arabia.

Formerly, large areas of the EBA were forested, but agricultural activities over millenia, including exploitation for timber, charcoal and firewood, have diminished this habitat. Patches of forest still survive in deep valleys (wadis) and on some steep slopes, and well-developed juniper Juniperus forest remains intact in the Asir mountains above c.1,900

Restricted-range species 

The restricted-ranges species occur throughout the EBA apart from Prunella fagani, which is confined to the Yemen highlands, and Estrilda rufibarba, which has not been recorded in the Asir mountains. Most are found in deciduous woodland and scrub, and can be widespread in secondary vegetation (see Sandgrouse 1987, 9).

Several other birds are also largely confined to this region but were judged to have ranges which exceed 50,000

Species IUCN Category
Philby's Partridge (Alectoris philbyi)  LC 
Yemen Warbler (Sylvia buryi)  VU 
Yemen Thrush (Turdus menachensis)  VU 
Arabian Waxbill (Estrilda rufibarba)  LC 
Yemen Accentor (Prunella fagani)  NT 
Yemen Serin (Serinus menachensis)  LC 
Yemen Linnet (Carduelis yemenensis)  LC 

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)

IBA Code Site Name Country
SA023  Taif escarpment  Saudi Arabia 
SA024  Wadi Turabah and Jabal Ibrahim  Saudi Arabia 
SA030  Raydah escarpment  Saudi Arabia 
SA034  Jabal Fayfa  Saudi Arabia 
YE005  Kawkaban - Shibam  Yemen 
YE006  Mahwit  Yemen 
YE008  Jabal al-Nabi Shu'ayb  Yemen 
YE011  Haraz mountains  Yemen 
YE017  Jabal Sumarah  Yemen 
YE018  High mountains of Ibb  Yemen 
YE031  Wadi al-Birayn  Yemen 
YE032  Jabal Iraf  Yemen 

Threats and conservation 

During recent decades roads have improved access to the mountains and, in some areas, economic activity has shifted from agriculture to local tourism. Consequently, traditional cultivated terracing (and associated uncultivated scrub), which can provide important habitats for some birds, are deteriorating and are subject to severe soil erosion on steeper slopes; habitat is further degraded as a result of uncontrolled cutting of fuelwood and timber and overgrazing (Jennings et al. 1988, WWF/IUCN 1994). More insidiously, however, in many areas mature trees are currently known to suffer from die-back; this may have resulted from climate change (reduced precipitation or drought) exacerbated by a range of other biological stresses (Gardner and Fisher 1994). Both Turdus menachensis and Sylvia (Parisoma) buryi are considered threatened because they occur at low densities and are thus most at risk from continuing loss of habitat.

As well as being important for restricted-range species, the Arabian peninsula is a major flyway for migrating birds: it has been estimated that some two to three billion migrants of up to 200 species pass through Saudi Arabia during both spring and autumn en route between sub-Saharan Africa and the Palearctic; the mountains no doubt provide vital habitat for feeding and resting. The region is also an important flyway for birds of prey that cross the Red Sea at and around the Bab al Mandab, the narrowest crossing point between the peninsula and Africa (Welch and Welch 1992). Threatened passage or wintering birds include Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga, Imperial Eagle A. heliaca and Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, all classified as Vulnerable. The main problem facing these raptors on migration is persecution, although definitive published evidence for this (in this EBA) appears to be lacking (Rands 1989).

The Critical-but historically widespread-Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita has been recorded as a rare spring passage migrant and non-breeding visitor at a few sites in the EBA (in both Saudi Arabia and Yemen). The species is known to survive only at a few breeding colonies in Morocco, and the wintering of birds in this EBA suggests either that some of the birds from the extinct breeding colony in Turkey have remained in the winter quarters over several years, or that an undiscovered breeding area exists in Turkey, Oman, Ethiopia, Syria or Iraq, or even in south-west Arabia.

Within the Saudi Arabian part of the EBA there are several protected areas. One of these, Asir National Park (4,150

Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Endemic Bird Area factsheet: South-west Arabian mountains. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016

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