|Location||Egypt, South Sinai|
|Central coordinates||33o 55.00' East 28o 20.00' North|
|Altitude||100 - 2,641m|
|Year of IBA assessment||2001|
Ornithological information 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.
Site description 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.
|Species||Season||Period||Population estimate||Quality of estimate||IBA Criteria||IUCN Category|
|Sand Partridge Ammoperdix heyi||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Sooty Falcon Falco concolor||breeding||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Near Threatened|
|Crowned Sandgrouse Pterocles coronatus||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse Pterocles lichtensteinii||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Pharaoh Eagle-owl Bubo ascalaphus||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Hume's Owl Strix butleri||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Pale Crag-martin Hirundo obsoleta||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Greater Hoopoe-lark Alaemon alaudipes||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Streaked Scrub-warbler Scotocerca inquieta||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Tristram's Starling Onychognathus tristramii||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|White-tailed Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Hooded Wheatear Oenanthe monacha||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Blackstart Cercomela melanura||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus||resident||1998||present [units unknown]||-||A3||Least Concern|
|Protected area||Designation||Area (ha)||Relationship with IBA||Overlap with IBA (ha)|
|St Catherine||Natural Monument||471,257||protected area contains site||435,000|
|Land-use||Extent (% of site)|
|nature conservation and research||-|
Other 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.
Management considerations The site is a Protected Area, declared by Prime Ministerial Decree 613/1988, and has been proposed as a World Heritage Site. The EU, in cooperation with the EEAA, has an ongoing project to develop the park management and infrastructure. At the heart of all problems facing the avifauna and the natural habitats in the St Katherine area is the increase in the number of people utilizing the area in an unregulated and haphazard manner. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of tourists and tourist developments, along with an associated growth in the local population. This uncontrolled human activity, which has suddenly struck the tranquil mountains of South Sinai, is threatening to destroy the very fragile ecosystem of the area.The drastic expansion in construction works in the St Katherine area has been completely unregulated and very badly planned. Perhaps, one of the most significant problems facing the St Katherine area is solid-waste management and disposal. Solid waste is mostly disposed of haphazardly and ‘on site’. Plastic bags and paper can now regularly be seen attached to vegetation at altitudes of up to 2,500 m, dispersed by wind action from open dumps. With the increased demand in St Katherine for water for municipal use, the output of liquid waste has soared in the past few years. Waste-water is disposed of by means of septic tanks, from where the waste-water leaches into the aquifer. At certain localities these tanks have been overburdened and waste-water is being released directly onto the surface of the soil. A sewerage system is under construction, but has not become functional yet. Overgrazing and collecting of firewood are degrading the vegetation cover in the St Katherine area, reducing the quality and quantity of feeding and nesting habitats of birds and other wildlife in the area.Bird-catching is practised on a local and infrequent basis in the St Katherine area. The main targeted species are Ammoperdix heyi and Alectoris chukar, which are trapped for food. The numbers involved and impact of this activity on the birds’ populations are not known. Bird hunting using air rifles has been reported. Small birds are presumably the main targets. Bird-trapping occurs, with as many as 20 Carpodacus synoicus being collected by one child in one day. In addition, Bedouins of the Jabaliya tribe consider birds such as Alectoris chukar, Ammoperdix heyi and Onychognathus tristramii to be agricultural pests and, as such, persecute them. Larger firearms are readily available to locals, particularly in remote areas (where they are used to protect illegal cannabis plantations) and are, undoubtedly, used to shoot larger birds, including birds of prey, as well as other large wildlife. The hunting of animals other than birds could have a negative impact on bird-of-prey populations. Dab lizards Uromastyx, hares Lepus, hyrax Procavia capensis and young ibex Capra nubiana are all potentially important prey-items for larger birds of prey. Their decline or disappearance would directly impact the populations of these birds.Since 1997 the St Katherine Protectorate development project, funded by the EU, has been instrumental in curbing and resolving many of the threats that are endangering the future of this unique region.
References Ayyad et al. (1993), Boulos (1995), Goodman and Meininger (1989), Hobbs (1994), Larsen (1990).
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Recommended citation BirdLife International (2013) Important Bird Areas factsheet: St Katherine Protectorate. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/05/2013
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