email a friend
printable version
Location Egypt, Red Sea
Central coordinates 36o 19.00' East  22o 15.00' North
IBA criteria A3
Area 500,000 ha
Altitude 0 - 1,435m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Nature Conservation Eqypt (Affiliate)

Site description The Gebel Elba area encompasses a cluster of coastal mountains overlooking the Red Sea, immediately to the north of the political border with Sudan. Most prominent are Gebel Elba (1,435 m), Gebel Shellal (1,409 m), Gebel Shendib (1,911 m) and Gebel Shendodai (1,526 m). These are the southernmost of the Egypt’s Red Sea mountains. A 25 km wide coastal plain separates the mountains from the Red Sea coast to the north and east. To the west lie the bleak sand-plains and hills of the Eastern Desert. A network of numerous small, deeply cut wadis drain the mountains into several major wadis, which flow towards the Red Sea or the Nile valley. The most important of these are Wadi Akwamtra, Wadi Aideib and Wadi Serimtai.

Gebel Elba itself enjoys higher precipitation than any of the other mountains in the region, even the higher ones, primarily because of its closeness to the sea and its favourable position in the face of moisture-laden north-easterly winds. Average annual rainfall in the region is less than 50 mm, although orographic precipitation on Gebel Elba itself amounts to as much as 400 mm. The summit of Gebel Elba is a ‘mist oasis’ where a considerable part of the precipitation is contributed in the form of dew or mist and clouds, which often shroud the mountaintop. Aridity increases notably from the north-east to the south-west.

The relative abundance of moisture, which is some of the highest in Egypt, allows a diverse flora to exist. Some 458 species of plants are known from Gebel Elba. Ferns, mosses and succulents are fairly common in the mist-zone at higher altitudes, where trees of Acacia, Moringa and Dracaena are dominant. At lower altitudes, in mountain wadis and foothills, there is dense parkland, dominated by Acacia and Delonix. The density of this vegetation is particularly high in the northern and north-east regions of Gebel Elba. This mid-altitude zone has the greatest biotic diversity. The undulating coastal plain is interspersed with shallow wadis and covered with scattered bushes and trees dominated by Acacia and Balanites. Saltmarsh vegetation and mangroves fringe long stretches of the coast.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Table 2 for key species. Because of the abundance of moisture, altitudinal effects and geographic position, Gebel Elba supports a rich biodiversity unparalleled in any other, similar, desert habitat in Egypt. Many Afrotropical elements have their northern limits at Elba, including several avian species. Some 41 bird species are known or thought to breed in the immediate vicinity of Elba. Of the Sahara–Sindian biome-restricted species, Turdoides fulvus is not represented in any other IBA in Egypt. Terathopius ecaudatus, Oena capensis, Caprimulgus nubicus, Eremopterix nigriceps, Nectarinia habessinica, Sylvia leucomelaena, Rhodophoneus cruentus, Lonchura cantans and Passer luteus are Afrotropical species that, in Egypt, are largely confined to Gebel Elba. Other species, such as Struthio camelus and Torgos tracheliotos, which have disappeared from most of their former North African/Middle Eastern range, can still be found in the Gebel Elba area, although they have both been greatly reduced in number during the past decade. The area also holds breeding populations of several birds of prey that are rare, or have sharply declined, throughout the remainder of their range in Egypt: Gypaetus barbatus, Neophron percnopterus, Aquila verreauxii and Hieraaetus fasciatus.

Non-bird biodiversity: Flora: Biscutella elbensis is endemic to Gebel Elba (Boulos 1995). Several other plant species, rare elsewhere in Egypt, are also found here. Reptiles: Ophisops elbaensis was thought to be endemic, but has been found recently in south-west Arabia. Mammals: Vulpes rueppelli (DD) is fairly common. If Panthera pardus still exists, it is very rare. Gazella dorcas (VU) and Capra nubiana (EN) are declining, but are still found in small numbers, while Ammotragus lervia (VU) is, apparently, still present in very small numbers.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Sand Partridge Ammoperdix heyi resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Sooty Falcon Falco concolor breeding  1998  present  A3  Near Threatened 
Crowned Sandgrouse Pterocles coronatus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse Pterocles lichtensteinii resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Pharaoh Eagle-owl Bubo ascalaphus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Hume's Owl Strix butleri resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Pale Crag-martin Hirundo obsoleta resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Greater Hoopoe-lark Alaemon alaudipes resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cinctura resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Fulvous Chatterer Turdoides fulva resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-tailed Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Blackstart Cercomela melanura resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Gebel Elba or Elba Natural Reserve 3,560,000 protected area contains site 500,000  

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
hunting -
nature conservation and research -
tourism/recreation -
other -
Notes: Charcoal production.

References Baha el Din (1997), Boulos (1995), Goodman (1985a), Goodman and Meininger (1989), Kassas and Zahran (1971), Osborne and Helmy (1980).

Contribute  Please click here to help BirdLife conserve the world's birds - your data for this IBA and others are vital for helping protect the environment.

Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Gebel Elba. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife