The Saharo-Arabian Region

The Saharo-Arabian Region is largely comprised of mountains and deserts and can be considered as something of a transition zone between the Palearctic, Afrotropical, and Indo-Malaysian realms. As here defined, it includes all of North Africa from the Sahara Desert to the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts (including the Canary and Madeira islands as well as Cyprus), the Arabian Peninsula and the southern parts of the Levant, and south-western Asia east as far as the Indus River and north to the mountains of Central Asia. Once lush and green, most of this region is now semi-desert, although the topographic diversity gives the Mediterranean coastal strip at least a variety of habitats. There are stretches of maquis vegetation, small woods and, on the slopes of the Atlas Mountains, some temperate forests. The deteriorating valley of the northern Nile still has green areas. There are still many forms of life in the semidesert, but seen in the perspective of thousands of years, the impoverishment of the fauna, which has affinities to both Eurasia and the rest of Africa, is striking.


Species and subspecies

The Atlas brown bear (Ursus arctos crowtheri) is known from fossil records collected between Morocco and Libya, along with numerous accounts of live animals from Roman times up to the latter half of the nineteenth century. Africa’s only bear, the last survivor is thought to have been killed by hunters in 1890. The Syrian brown bear (U. a. syriacus) is a small, light-coloured subspecies that was historically found across a wide area of the Middle East from the Levant and Anatolia to Turkmenistan. Long since exterminated by hunting over most of this range, it still survives in parts of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, primarily in mountainous regions. In the early twenty-first century bear tracks were also recorded from the Anti-Lebanon Mountains of Syria. The Balochistan black bear (U. thibetanus gedrosianus) has been driven from its optimal coniferous forest habitats in the mountains to low, arid hills with thickets of acacias and euphorbias, where it has become very rare, apparently owing to paucity of natural food and to conflicts with man, because it is obliged to raid crops to be able to feed.

The Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) is the only surviving primate in Africa north of the Sahara Desert, the only native species of primate in Europe and the only member of its genus to be found outside of Asia. It was once an inhabitant of much of Europe and all of North Africa from Libya to Morocco, but is now confined to small, relict patches of high-altitude cedar and oak forests across the Atlas Mountains as well as rocky slopes and coastal scrub in Algeria and Morocco. A famous, semi-wild population lives on the Rock of Gibraltar, which is a long-established introduced population.

The North African population of the African lion (Panthera leo leo), often known as the Barbary lion, was once quite common in North Africa including both the Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean littoral, extending into Egypt where they historically lived along the Nile and as far east as the Sinai Peninsula. In the fourteenth century B.C.the pharaoh Thutmose IV hunted lions in the hills near Memphis. Later, lions for the Roman arenas were constantly shipped to Rome, where according to Pliny hundreds at a time were exhibited. The lions in the menagerie at the Tower of London during the Middle Ages were Barbary lions, and during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries they were commonly kept in zoos and circuses. In the wild state they still existed from Libya to Morocco up to about 250 years ago, and were even fairly numerous in Tunisia. However, the arrival of firearms, coupled with bounties given for each lion shot, resulted in a very rapid decline. They still occurred along the coast of Libya until the beginning of the eighteenth century. The last Tunisian individual was killed in 1891. In Algeria the history is similar, with the last one also likely killed about 1891 (a reported sighting in 1956 notwithstanding). In Morocco the last one was shot in 1942 in the Middle Atlas, although populations perhaps persisted up to the 1960s in some remote montane areas. There are still a few zoo animals with some Barbary lion ancestry, but whether there is enough genetic material to resurrect the subspecies is unknown. It nevertheless survives in West Africa and the northern parts of Central Africa, as well as in India.

The African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is the most widespread leopard subspecies, occurring throughout sub- Saharan Africa and in a variety of habitats from open arid savanna to dense lowland and montane rainforest. Unfortunately, the subspecies has disappeared from many of its former areas due to illegal hunting for its fur (which has a great commercial as well as trophy value), in addition to poisoning and loss of habitat. This is certainly true north of the Sahara, where the so-called Barbary leopard has been wholly or perhaps entirely eliminated. Up until the latter part of the twentieth century populations were still known to occur in certain Atlas Mountain areas of Morocco, Algeria, and perhaps Tunisia, as well as in parts of southern Egypt, where they continued to be intensively hunted. Leopards were given legal protection in 1948, but those who hunt them invariably claim that they are acting in self-defence or to protect livestock. Apart from human persecution the disappearance or decimation of several species of antelope has also resulted in leopard declines in North Africa. Its last strongholds were in the mountains of Morocco and Algeria, but the animals are now believed to have been extirpated from the former country and may now be entirely restricted to a few survivors in the Ahaggar Mountains. None have actually been seen in the wild for many years.

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is a large spotted cat notable for being the world’s fastest land animal. Historically found across Africa, Asia, and Europe, it has been mercilessly hunted and eliminated from most of its former range. The north-west African cheetah (A. j. hecki) is found patchily in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso.

The serval (Leptailurus serval) is species of spotted cat that is widespread in Africa overall but highly threatened north of the Sahara. Formerly found throughout the Mediterranean coast region in both semi-deserts and cork-oak forests, today it is known to occur only in Morocco and possibly Algeria, with a reintroduced population (from East African stock) in Tunisia.

The African wild ass (Equus africanus) is believed to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey, which is usually placed within the same species (E. a. asinus). Three other subspecies formerly lived throughout the deserts and arid areas of northern Africa. One of these, the Atlas wild ass (E. a. atlanticus) from what is now Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, appears to have been driven extinct by Roman sport hunting some time after ad 300. The Nubian wild ass (E. a. africanus) is also presumed to be extinct. Historically it lived in the Nubian Desert of north-eastern Sudan from east of the Nile River to the Red Sea, and south to the Atbarah River and northern Eritrea. Long pursued by humans for domestication, it was not until modern firearms came into general use that the decline of this form became serious. It was frequently slaughtered by nomads who accused it of consuming grass needed for their goats (in actual fact, of course, it was the goats that were the real problem). By the mid-twentieth century only a few small herds survived in remote areas of north-eastern Sudan and northern Eritrea. Despite legal protection these too were hunted down and annihilated. The last confirmed sightings were in the Barka Valley and the border area between Eritrea and Sudan during aerial surveys in the 1970s. Two populations outside the historic range potentially survive. A DNA study of feral donkeys on the Caribbean island of Bonaire revealed that these animals are very close to known Nubian wild asses and very different from other forms. The other alleged population, in Gebel Elba National Park on the Egypt/Sudan border, has yet to be scientifically investigated.

The bubal hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus buselaphus) was once an abundant antelope across northern Africa from Morocco to Egypt and perhaps historically extending into the Levant. Large herds were still reported from Morocco north of the Atlas Mountains in 1738, and ‘wild oxen’ which may or may not have been these animals were mentioned as living in the Tassili Mountains of the central Sahara in 1850. In any event the subspecies declined sharply during the nineteenth century, particularly after the French conquest of Algeria when entire herds were massacred by the colonial military. By 1867 it was confined to the mountain ranges of northwestern Africa. It disappeared from the Tunisian Atlas in 1870, with the last individual from that country shot in 1902 near Tataouine. The remaining population was confined to the Western Atlas of Morocco and Algeria, where the last herd, numbering only 15 animals, was wiped out by hunters in 1917. It probably disappeared from Algeria around the same time. The last captive specimen died in the Paris Zoo in 1923, and the last known individual of all was shot in Morocco in 1925. There are reports in the literature of survivors having been shot between 1945 and 1954 in Algeria, and in south-western Morocco in 1945. However, this seems unlikely, as numerous attempts to locate the animals in the 1920s and 1930s had been unsuccessful even in areas where they had once been common.

The mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella) occurs sporadically in a range of habitats within Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan from the Golan Heights through central Israel, the Jordan Valley, and the northern Negev Desert. There have been no records from Syria since the 1970s (although a small number was recently seen in Turkey, near the Syrian border), or from the Sinai since 1932. In Lebanon the species was believed to have been extirpated after 1945, until three individuals were seen in the Barouk Mountains in 1998. The total number in Israel was estimated at around 10,000 in the late 1990s, but appears to have declined sharply since then. Populations in other areas are negligible.

The Persian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica), the largest of the fallow deer group, formerly occurred throughout the Near and Middle East. Owing to the fact that most of the woodlands in this region have disappeared, this species also vanished nearly everywhere. By 1875 the range had been reduced to just south-western and western Iran. The surviving deer were thought to have been driven extinct by intensive hunting by the 1940s, but a small population of about two dozen was rediscovered in the western foothills of the Zagros Mountains in south-western Iran in 1956, and a number brought to the Opel Zoo in Kronberg, Germany, to form the nucleus of a captive breeding programme. The last seven wild deer were captured in the mid-1960s and shipped to a fenced reserve close to the Caspian Sea in north-eastern Iran. In 1978, during the upheavals of the Iranian Revolution, conservationists transported the latter into Israel for safekeeping. Despite all these efforts the species remains in a precarious state, at least in the wild, inhabiting as it does an island in Lake Urmia (northwestern Iran), parts of northern Israel (where they had been reintroduced in the 1990s), and perhaps two small protected areas in south-western Iran.

The Barbary red deer (Cervus elaphus barbarus), also known as the Barbary stag, is the only deer native to Africa. Fossil remains indicate that in prehistoric times it was found as far south as the central Sahara, but retreated along with the forests. In Roman times it was still common all over Tunisia, northern Algeria, and parts of Morocco, but declined with further loss of forests and extensive hunting. It suffered grievously in the mid-twentieth century during the Algerian War, when poaching and slaughter were uncontrolled. In recent years it has recovered somewhat owing to better protection, but remains confined to a few areas of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco (where it was reintroduced in the 1990s after having been extirpated), north-eastern Algeria, and western Tunisia.

The aoudad (Ammotragus lervia), a type of wild sheep, is divided into six subspecies found patchily across Africa in both mountainous and desert areas. All are threatened by hunting and habitat destruction. The Saharan aoudad (A. l. sahariensis) is the most widespread, occurring as it does in southern Morocco, Western Sahara, southern Algeria, south-western Libya, Sudan, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and northern Chad. Blaine’s aoudad (A. l. blainei) was historically found from western Sudan to the Red Sea coast, but is now most likely confined to the Red Sea Hills of eastern Sudan and perhaps in south-eastern Libya.

The Arabian pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus arabicus) is known only from a small area in south-eastern Saudi Arabia and north-eastern Oman, and another in southern Iran.

Hanaki’s dwarf bat (P. hanaki) is known only from a small area in north-eastern coastal Libya.

The lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) is divided into two subspecies. The Asian lappet-faced vulture (T. t. negevensis) is confined to the Negev Desert and to the Sinai and Arabian Peninsulas, where it is threatened by habitat destruction, human disturbance of its nesting sites and pesticide poisoning.

Two subspecies of European turtledove (Streptopelia turtur) are to be found within the Saharo-Arabian Region, where they are threatened by loss of habitat and hunting. Hartert’s turtledove (S. t. arenicola) is widespread from north-western Africa to western Asia, while the Egyptian turtledove (S. t. rufescens) is found in Egypt and northern Sudan.

The Basra reed warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis) breeds primarily in the Mesopotamian marshes of south-eastern Iraq, as well as in the Hula Valley of northern Israel and most likely in south-western Iran as well. It winters in Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, south-eastern Kenya, eastern Tanzania, southern Malawi, and Mozambique. The neardestruction of its breeding habitat during the latter part of the twentieth century resulted in a massive decline, and the species remains seriously threatened.

Jerdon’s babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) is divided into three subspecies found in isolated pockets throughout South Asia. The Sind Jerdon’s babbler (C. a. scindicum) is confined to wetlands within the Indus River drainage of eastern Pakistan.

The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia) is divided into three subspecies. The nominate form (U. a. aegyptia) occurs in north-eastern Africa, Jordan, and extreme north-western Saudi Arabia. The small-scaled Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard (U. a. microlepis) is found in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates Qatar and Kuwait, while Leptien’s Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard (U. a. leptieni) is found in the Hajar al-Gharbi Mountains of Oman and in north-eastern United Arab Emirates. All are threatened by loss of habitat.

Blanc’s spiny-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus blanci) is confined to a few areas of northern Tunisia and north-eastern Algeria, where it is threatened by loss of habitat.

Manuel’s cylindrical skink (Chalcides manueli) is confined to a few localities in central coastal Morocco. The small threetoed cylindrical skink (C. minutus) is found in north-eastern Morocco and north-western Algeria. Both are threatened by loss of habitat.

Varaldi’s spadefoot toad (Pelobates varaldii) is confined to a few localities on the coastal plains of north-western Morocco.

Mountains and Highlands

The major mountain ranges of the Saharo-Arabian Region include the Atlas Mountains of north-western Africa, the Al Hajar Mountains in the Arabian Peninsula, the Hindu Kush, and the Levantine, Kopet Dag, Alborz, and Zagros mountains in the Near and Middle East.

Two subspecies of wild goat (Capra aegagrus) are found in the mountains of southern Pakistan, where they are seriously threatened by uncontrolled hunting. The Sindh wild goat (C. a. blythi) is confined to a few areas of south-western Pakistan. The Chiltan wild goat (C. a. chialtanensis) was, by the early 1970s, confined to four or five small populations in southern Pakistan (Balochistan province). These have since been reduced by uncontrolled hunting to a single surviving population in Hazarganji-Chiltan National Park.

The Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana) is a mountain-dwelling goat formerly found across North Africa and the Middle East. Like others of its kind it has been much reduced as a result of poaching, and now survives only in scattered populations in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and possibly Syria. It appears to have been extirpated from Eritrea (where a special reserve had been declared for it in 1959), as well as from Lebanon. Only a few thousand at most remain in the wild.

The Aïr aoudad (Ammotragus lervia angusi) is a type of wild sheep confined to the Aïr and Termit Massifs of northern Niger.

The Queen of Sheba’s gazelle (Gazella bilkis) is known from only five specimens collected in the mountains of Yemen in 1951. A somewhat doubtfully valid taxon, it is nevertheless clear that the gazelle population from this area, which was described as common in the 1950s, is now long extinct.

Val’s gundi (Ctenodactylus vali) is a type of rodent confined to two small, widely separated areas in North Africa, the first in north-eastern Morocco and north-western Algeria, and the other in north-western Libya.

Zarundny’s jird (Meriones zarudnyi) is confined to semiarid highland areas in north-eastern Iran and northern Afghanistan.

Setzer’s mouse-tailed dormouse (Myomimus setzeri) is known only from a few specimens collected in the mountains of eastern Turkey and north-western Iran.

The Persian wood mouse (Apodemus avicennicus) is known only from a single locality in the Shirkouh Heights of central Iran.

Père David’s mole (Talpa davidiana) is known from two localities on the Iranian Plateau of north-western Iran (Kurdistan province) and south-eastern Turkey.

The Persian vole (Microtus irani) is known only from four specimens collected in the 1920s from a city garden in Shiraz (Fars province).

Butler’s owl (Strix butleri) is a likely cliff-nesting species known only from a few specimens collected or observed in the mountains of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and perhaps Iran.

The Saharan turtledove (Streptopelia turtur hoggara) is confined to the Aïr Massif of northern Niger and the Hoggar Mountains of southern Algeria.

The Persian toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus persicus) is known from a few fragmented populations in the northwestern and western parts of the Central Plateau in Iran, with an additional report from the highlands of southern Azerbaijan.

Schmitz’s agama (Trapelus schmitzi) is known only from three specimens, two of which were collected from the Tassili n’Ajjer Mountains of south-eastern Algeria in around 1900 and 1952 and the third from the Ennedi Mountains of north-eastern Chad.

The thick-tailed rock gecko (Bunopus crassicauda) is known only from a few specimens collected from the northwestern part of the Central Plateau in Iran, although it may occur as well in north-eastern Syria.

The Iranian mountain viper (Montivipera albicornuta) is confined to the Zanjan Valley and surrounding mountains in north-western Iran.

Two subspecies of Anatolian dwarf racer (Eirenis thospitis) is divided into two subspecies found in the mountains of south-eastern Anatolia. The Van dwarf racer (E. t. thospitis) is confined to a small area near Lake Van, while the Hakkari dwarf racer (E. t. hakkariensis) is known only from two localities near the cities of Siirt and Hakkar.

Bury’s blind snake (Myriopholis burii) is known only from a few specimens collected from the mountains of southwestern Saudi Arabia and south-western Yemen. It has not been recorded since 1946.

Eichwald’s toad (Bufo eichwaldi) is confined to the Talysh and Alborz mountains of Azerbaijan, as well as parts of northern Iran.

The Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains are a series of subranges that stretch across north-western Africa, extending about 2500 km through Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Separating Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert, these mountains are home to a number of plant and animal species unique in Africa and often more like those found in Europe. Many of them (particularly large mammals) are seriously threatened and a few have already gone extinct. The Barbary sheep or Atlas aoudad (Ammotragus lervia lervia) inhabits the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, northern Algeria, and northern Tunisia, where it is threatened mainly by poaching.

Cuvier’s gazelle (Gazella cuvieri) was formerly abundant throughout the Atlas Mountains and neighbouring ranges in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. Mercilessly hunted during the twentieth century by local tribesmen using modern rifles, often from automobiles, in 1932 it was already said to be one of the rarest of all gazelles. By 1970 only a few small herds were left, scattered among isolated forest fragments and high plateaus. Populations have recovered since then with better protection, but the species remains threatened by loss of habitat.

The small-fingered psammodromus (Psammodromus microdactylus) is a type of lizard found in relictual, isolated populations in the Rif, High, and Middle Atlas Mountains of northern and central Morocco.

The Tell Atlas

The Tell Atlas runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast in north-eastern Morocco and northern Algeria. The mountains in this system have an average elevation of about 1500 m and form a natural barrier between the Mediterranean and the Sahara Desert.

The Algerian nuthatch (Sitta ledanti) is known only from four localities in the Tell Atlas of Algeria.

Several subspecies of North African fire salamander (Salamandra algira) are found patchily in the Atlas Mountains. The Algerian fire salamander (S. a. algira) is found in a few areas across the Tell Atlas, while the Beni Snassen fire salamander (S. a. spelaea) is confined to the Beni Snassen Massif in north-eastern Morocco.

The Edough ribbed newt (Pleurodeles poireti) is confined to the Edough Massif in north-eastern Algeria.

The Middle Atlas Range

The Middle Atlas is located in north-central Morocco.

The Middle Atlas fire salamander (Salamandra algira atlantica) is confined to the northern and central Middle Atlas.

The Rif Mountains

The Rif Mountains are located in northern Morocco.

The Tingitana fire salamander (Salamandra algira tingitana) is confined to the Tingitana Peninsula. The splendid Moroccan fire salamander (S. a. splendens) is confined to the central and western Rif Mountains.

The Levantine Mountains

The Levantine Mountains, as here defined, include those ranges found within Israel, Palestine, southern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The Syrian serin (Serinus syriacus) is a type of passerine bird that breeds in the mountains of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, with some populations making a winter migration to lower-elevation desert areas as far away as the Nile Valley. It has declined due to drought and habitat destruction.

The Levantine bent-toed gecko (Mediodactylus amictopholis) appears to be largely restricted to Mount Hermon in southwestern Syria, with a single specimen having been collected from the Mount Lebanon range in central Lebanon.

Kulzer’s lizard (Phoenicolacerta kulzeri) is divided into three ill-defined subspecies (P. k. kulzeri, P. k. petraea, and P. k. khasaliensis) found in scattered areas within the Levantine Mountains. All are threatened by loss of habitat.

Fraas’ lizard (Parvilacerta fraasii) is known only from the mountains of Lebanon and perhaps adjacent Syria. The Lebanon mountain viper (Montivipera bornmuelleri) is confined to the high mountains of Lebanon and southern Syria.

The Al Hajar Mountains

The highest mountains on the eastern Arabian Peninsula, the Al Hajar Mountains are located in north-eastern Oman and eastern United Arab Emirates.

The Arabian tahr (Arabitragus jayakari) is a type of ungulate confined to the Al Hajar Mountains, where it prefers north-facing slopes between 1000 and 1800 m. The estimated world population is less than 5000.

The Jebal Akhdar leaf-toed gecko (Asaccus montanus) is confined to the higher elevations of the Jebal Akhdar in Oman.

The Sarawat Mountains

The Sarawat Mountains (Jibal as-Sarawat in Arabic) are located in western Saudi Arabia and western Yemen, running parallel to the Red Sea.

The Asir Range

The Asir Range (Jibal al-Asyr in Abrabic) is located in southwestern Saudi Arabia.

The Asir magpie (Pica asirensis) is confined to the Asir range, where the total population is less than 300.

The Yemen warbler (Sylvia buryi) is confined to the Asir range.

Gasperett’s snake (Lytorhynchus gasperetti) is known only from a few specimens collected during the 1970s primarily from the south-eastern Asir Mountains.

The Asir garra (Garra buettikeri) is a type of freshwater fish confined to a few small streams in the eastern Asir range.

The Hijaz Range

The Hijaz Range (Jibal al-Hijaz in Abrabic) is located in western Saudi Arabia.

The Arabian himri (Carasobarbus apoensis) is a type of freshwater fish known from six isolated wadis within the Al Hijaz Mountains. An expedition in 2013 failed to find any specimens from three of these sites.

The Kopet Dag Mountains

Also known as the Turkmen-Khorasan range, the Kopet Dag Mountains extend about 650 km along the border between Turkmenistan and Iran south-east of the Caspian Sea.

The Turkmenean wild goat (Capra aegagrus turcmenica) occurs in scattered populations in the central Kopet Dag Mountains. In 1986 the total population was estimated at around 7000 and decreasing.

Steiner’s wall lizard (Darevskia steineri) is known only from a small area of the Kopet Dag Mountains in north-eastern Iran.

The Alborz Mountains

The Alborz Mountains (also spelled Alburz, Elburz, or Elborz) are located in northern Iran, where they stretch from the border of Azerbaijan along the western and entire southern coast of the Caspian Sea before finally running north-east and merging with the Aladagh Mountains.

The Alborz brush-tailed mouse (Calomyscus grandis) is confined to montane forests of the Alborz Mountains. The Iranian mountain steppe viper (Vipera ebneri) is known only from alpine meadows in the Alborz Mountains.

Latif’s mountain viper (Montivipera latifii) is confined to a small area in the upper Lar River drainage of the central Alborz Mountains.

The Gorgan salamander (Iranodon gorganensis) is confined to the Shir-Abad Cave and the stream flowing from it, approximately 60 km east of Gorgan in the eastern Alborz Mountains.

The Zagros Mountains

The Zagros Mountains are a long mountain range in western Iran, north-eastern Iraq, and south-eastern Turkey.

The Esfahan mouflon (Ovis gmelini isphahanica) is confined to a very small area of the Zagros Mountains south-west of Esfahan in west-central Iran.

Firouz’s jerboa (Allactaga firouzi) is known only from a few areas of montane steppe in west-central Iran (Isfahan province).

The Iraqi bent-toed gecko (Mediodactylus heteropholis) is known only from two specimens collected in the foothills of western Iran and north-eastern Iraq.

Helen’s bent-toed gecko (Microgecko helenae) is known only from a few, widely scattered records.

The spider-tailed horned viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides) is known only from the Zagros Mountains of western Iran.

Rechinger’s dwarf racer (Eirenis rechingeri) is known only from a single locality within the Zagros Mountains of southwestern Iran.

The Luristan newt (Neurergus kaiseri) is an entirely aquatic species confined to the central Zagros Mountains, where it is heavily collected for use in the international pet trade.

The Zagros cave garra (Garra typhlops) is a blind, unpigmented freshwater fish confined to caves in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.

The Kurdistan mountain catfish (Glyptothorax kurdistanicus) is known only from a single specimen collected in the early twentieth century from the Little Zab River, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.

The Zagros blind loach (Eidenemacheilus smithi) is confined to a single aquifer in the Karun River drainage, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.

The Hindu Kush

The Hindu Kush is an 800-km-long mountain range that stretches near the Afghan–Pakistan border, from central Afghanistan to northern Pakistan.

The Balochistan forest dormouse (Dryomys niethammeri) is known only from a single locality in central Pakistan (northeastern Baluchistan province).

The Paghman stream salamander (Afghanodon mustersi) is known only from the three glacier-fed, high-elevation tributaries of the Paghman stream drainage in the Hindu Kush of eastern Afghanistan (Kabul province). The total population is thought to be roughly 1000–2000.

The Marrah Mountains

The Marrah Mountains (Jebbel Marah in Arabic) are a range of volcanic peaks within a massif located in south-western Sudan.

Lowe’s gerbil (Gerbillus lowei) and the Darfur gerbil (G. muriculus) are both known only from the Marrah Mountains.

The arid woodland thicket rat (Grammomys aridulus) is known only from the Marrah Mountains.

The Nur Mountains

The Nur Mountains (Nur Daglari in Turkish, also known as the Amanos Mountains) are located in coastal south-central Turkey (Hatay province).

Baran’s kukri snake (Muhtarophis barani) is confined to the Nur Mountains.

Lowland Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands and Scrub

Within the Saharo-Arabian Region Mediterranean forests occur primarily along parts of the North African coast from Morocco to Tunisia, with isolated pockets in Libya, Egypt, and coastal areas of the Levant as well as on the Canary Islands and Cyprus. The vegetation in these areas is, in principle, much like that of the Mediterranean shores of southern Europe except that it has suffered even more from man’s destructive activities.

The golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus), familiar the world over today as a pet, was originally described from a single specimen collected near Aleppo, Syria in 1839 by a British zoologist. It was not recorded again until 1930, when a mother and her young were captured alive. These were bred in Jerusalem as laboratory animals, with some escaping and forming the wild colony we see there today. Descendants of these captive animals were also shipped to Britain beginning in the early 1930s and became the nucleus of all the golden hamsters seen up until the 1970s, when a new stock was finally exported from Syria. In terms of the natural population, it appears to be entirely confined to the Aleppinian Plateau of north-western Syria and south-central Turkey, where it is seriously threatened by loss of habitat and moreover considered to be an agricultural pest.

Ebner’s cylindrical skink (Chalcides ebneri) is known only from two localities in northern Morocco, where it was last recorded in 1970. Günther’s cylindrical skink (C. guentheri) is confined to Mediterranean forest fragments in northwestern Jordan, south-western Syria, southern Lebanon, and northern and central Israel.

The North African Lataste’s viper (Vipera latastei gaditana) is found sporadically in northern Morocco, northern Algeria and, at least historically, in extreme north-western Tunisia. It is heavily persecuted and has undergone significant declines.

Aboubakeur’s false smooth snake (Macroprotodon abubakeri) is known from north-eastern Morocco and north-western Algeria (including the Habibas Islands).

Deserts and Semi-deserts

A large proportion of the Saharo-Arabian Region is, of course, desert and semi-desert. Many of these areas were formerly grasslands, rich in perennial grasses, but overgrazing by domestic animals over thousands of years has degraded them. If left in peace by man, however, they would gradually change back, so in a biological sense they are not, in reality, deserts at all. One of the largest of these man-made deserts is in the Middle East, where in the midst of seemingly endless sand and scrub great ruins bear witness to glorious civilizations once based on fertile lands. The biological capital of countries like Jordan, Syria, and Iraq has probably been continuously mistreated by human beings and their goats for longer periods than any other similar area. The vegetation and the fertile soil have disappeared, the erosion gnaws ever deeper, the springs are dried up and many vertebrate species have been exterminated. And every year the mismanagement accelerates.

The Persian wild ass (Equus hemionus onager) was historically widely distributed in the arid semi-deserts and plains of the Middle East. Hunting for meat and competition with livestock have steadily reduced it to the point where, today, the natural population of around 600 is confined to two protected areas in north-eastern Iran. A captive breeding programme has been successful, and has resulted in the introduction of this species both to areas of its former range as well as locations once inhabited by the now-extinct Syrian wild ass (E. h. hemippus) in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Ukraine.

During the Middle Ages the scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) was probably the most numerous larger mammal of the semi-deserts just south of the Sahara, occurring from Mauritania in the west to the Red Sea in the east. It was relentlessly hunted, however, at first by Arab horsemen and later by oil prospectors and soldiers (often using motorized vehicles and automatic weapons). It remained relatively common for a time, with a single herd of 10,000 having been reported in Chad in 1936. By the mid-twentieth century, though, it had been drastically reduced in both range and numbers, and within a few more decades completely wiped out. The species was last reported in Chad in the early 1990s, and was thereafter believed to be extinct in the wild. Small captive populations continue to exist in fenced protected areas in Tunisia, Morocco, and Senegal. As of 2016 efforts were underway to release a large number of oryxes into the Oudi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve in Chad.

The addax (Addax nasomaculatus) is another large, nomadic, desert-adapted antelope historically found throughout almost the whole of the Sahara Desert and Sahelian region west of the Nile Valley, but which has undergone a catastrophic decline over the last century. By the 1970s it was long extinct in North Africa but still present in parts of Western Sahara, Mauritania, northern Mali, Chad, Niger, southern Algeria, southern Libya, and possibly northern Sudan. It was considered very rare everywhere except for an uninhabited and almost waterless area of Mauritania and Mali, where it was still numerous despite being constantly hunted by nomads from motorized vehicles. This intense hunting pressure has continued unabated, and has brought the species to the brink of extinction. Today, the only known remaining population thought to be viable lives in the Termit/Tin Toumma region of south-eastern Niger. However, there are sporadic reports of small, isolated groups and individuals from the eastern Aïr Mountains and western Ténéré region of north-eastern and north-central Niger, and from the Djourab region of western Chad. Possible rare vagrants from these areas may be seen elsewhere in northern Niger as well as in southern Algeria and Libya. There have been rumours of addax along the Mali/Mauritania border, and in 2007 fresh tracks from a small herd were observed in central Mauritania. Addax have rarely been reported since. In 2013 it was estimated that probably fewer than 300 still survived in the wild, ranging unevenly along a narrow, 600-km-long band lying between Termit/Tin Toumma and the Djourab sand sea. By 2016 that number had been reduced to less than a hundred, and perhaps considerably less, due to recent poaching. Fortunately, there is a considerable worldwide captive population of around 750, in addition to several thousand on private hunting ranches in the United States and the Middle East. Small numbers have been released as well into large, fenced enclosures within protected areas in Tunisia, Morocco, and Mauritania.

The Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr), the smallest of the leopards, still lives in arid areas of the Arabian Peninsula north to Syria, Israel, and Lebanon. Populations from the Sinai Peninsula are now believed to be extirpated.

The Arabian grey wolf (Canis lupus arabs) was once found throughout the Arabian Peninsula, but is now confined to small pockets in southern Israel, southern and western Iraq, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. It is rare throughout its range and heavily persecuted by humans.

The Laristan mouflon (Ovis gmelini laristanica) is confined to a few desert reserves in southern Iran.

Hoogstraal’s gerbil (Gerbillus hoogstraali) is confined to a small area of central coastal Morocco between the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains, where it is threatened by habitat destruction and human disturbance. The Khartoum gerbil (G. stigmonyx) is known only from east-central Sudan.

The Dhofar shrew (Crocidura dhofarensis) is known only from two shrubby localities in Oman and Yemen. Katinka’s shrew (C. katinka) is a little-known species sporadically recorded from Israel (where it appears to have been extirpated), Palestine, Syria, and south-western Iran. The Khuzistan shrew (C. susiana) is confined to a small area of south-western Iran (Khuzistan province).

The Kerman vole (Microtus kermanensis) is known only from a few specimens collected in south-eastern Iran.

Christie’s long-eared bat (Plecotus christii) is known only from a few localities in north-eastern Africa, including Egypt, eastern Libya, and Sudan. It was described as ‘very common’ in Palestine during the late nineteenth century, but appears to have been extirpated from there.

Two subspecies of common ostrich (Struthio camelus) have been heavily impacted by hunting and overcollection of their eggs. The Arabian ostrich (S. c. syriacus) was historically widespread in the arid steppes of the Middle East. Human persecution is believed to have driven it extinct around 1966. The North African ostrich (S. c. camelus), the world’s largest living bird, was once similarly widespread across much of North Africa, but has disappeared from large areas of its former range.

Kleinmann’s tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) was historically widespread along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa (Libya and Egypt), the Sinai Peninsula, and Israel, but is now confined to only a few areas, where it is facing extinction in the wild due to loss of habitat and collection for the international pet trade.

Peters’ rock gecko (Pristurus longipes) is known only from historical records originating in Yemen, as well as from a poorly preserved specimen collected from what is now Eritrea.

The keel-scaled bent-toed gecko (Mediodactylus aspratilis) is known only from two localities in south-western Iran (Fars province). The Jaz Murian bent-toed gecko (M. sagittifer) is known only from the Jaz Murian Depression of south-eastern Iran (Sistan and Baluchistan provinces).

The banded-toed gecko (Saurodactylus fasciatus) is confined to a few scattered localities in north-western Morocco.

Werner’s spider gecko (Cyrtopodion gastrophole) is known only from two localities in south-western Iran (Fars province).

The Harran spiny-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus harranensis) is known only from the ruins of the ancient city of Harran in south-eastern Turkey, but may occur in adjacent areas of Syria. The south Arabian spiny-toed lizard (A. felicis) is found disjunctly in southern Yemen and southern Oman, where it is threatened by coastal development. Nilson’s spiny-toed lizard (A. nilsoni) is known only from a single, now-degraded locality in western Iran (Kermanshah province).

The Red Sea snake-eyed lizard (Ophisops elbaensis) is known only from a few isolated localities in south-eastern Egypt and the south-western Arabian Peninsula (southwestern Saudi Arabia and western Yemen).

Werner’s diadem snake (Spalerosophis dolichospilus) is known only from a few records from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.

Thomas’ racer (Coluber thomasi) is confined to the Dofar region of southern coastal Oman.

The Halfeti blind snake (Letheobia episcopus) is known only from two localities in the Euprhates River Valley of southeastern Turkey.

The Iranian worm snake (Xerotyphlops wilsoni) is known only from a single locality in south-western Iran.

The Sahara Desert

North Africa is dominated by the Sahara, the largest hot desert in the world. It extends from the Atlantic to the Red Sea and down to the highlands of Ethiopia, but it is not everywhere flat, sandy, and lifeless. Some parts of it do get a little rain, which occasionally or periodically encourages sparse plants to grow. There are mountains at its heart such as those at Tibesti that climb to a height of 3445 m, or extend in a chain, as do the cedar-clad and snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the northwestern corner. In the east the mighty Nile creates a strip of vegetation amid the sand. Today, although species richness and endemism in the Sahara are very low, some highly adapted creatures do survive, but as a whole it is barren country, a sea of sand with a few oases.

It was not always so. During the last ice age in northern Europe and Asia the climate was significantly wetter in the Sahara, and it was not until geologically recent times that the desert became dominant. There is also evidence that in a nottoo- distant past – 6000–2000 years ago – parts of the Sahara consisted of steppes with perennial grasses supporting an abundance of mammals of a kind found in the African tropics to the south. It is very likely, however, that for long periods there was a desert-like belt, perhaps somewhere in the middle of the present Sahara, but apparently it was not large enough to prevent the dispersal of tropical animals from the tropical savannas. Between 4500 and 3500 bc, hippopotamuses, elephants, giraffes, and rhinoceroses were common on the central parts of the Sahara, showing that there was ample grass, shrub, and tree vegetation to satisfy their enormous needs. Hippopotamuses wallowed in the rivers and crocodiles lay along the banks, while buffaloes and several species of antelope lived on the wide expanses of grass. At least part of the Sahara was thus grassy tree savanna in relatively recent times. Around 2000 bc the hippopotamuses, elephants, and rhinoceroses began to disappear from the central parts of the Sahara, but as late as 1200 bc giraffes were still nibbling the leaves in the crowns of trees. In 1815 there were hippopotamuses in Egypt, and in 1750 both they and the elephant were still found about the lower Senegal River.

The drying up of the Sahara at the end of the Pleistocene certainly contributed to the disappearance of many of these forms of wildlife. But man, too, is involved. We know from cave paintings in the western Sahara that herds of domestic stock once lived here along with large grazing and browsing animals. The abuse of the soil and vegetation by domestic livestock through millennia has ruined North Africa and changed to deserts even areas with a moderate rainfall. In the interior of the Sahara scientists have found fossilized profiles of humus-rich soil with pollen, calculated to be 5000–6000 years old, from a cedar forest. As recently as 2000 years ago, there were forests deep in the Sahara where today there is nothing but sand, indicating that the vegetation along the coasts of North Africa once extended into what is now desert. In Morocco alone, forests covering more than one-third of the country have disappeared since Roman times. What was the cause of the widespread desertification of such a vast area? No conclusive answer can be given, but there is good reason to believe that man and his livestock were an accelerating factor in the process. It is a remarkable fact that whenever civilization in North Africa has flourished, the soil has begun to bear plants – before and during the Roman period, and in more recent times under French and Italian control – but during the long periods when the area was dominated by nomadic tribes, the soil deteriorated. The climate is, of course, a contributing factor, but it seems to be man, cows, and goats who began the erosion avalanche. The most degradation is found where there is water (oases, etc.). Here, habitats may be heavily altered by human activities. Previously existing tree cover has often been removed for fuel and fodder by nomadic pastoralists and traders. Unfortunately, not all the larger mammals of North Africa could take refuge in the tropics. Many could not escape or were not adapted to survive outside the subtropical region. Persecution by humans left them in isolated pockets, chiefly in mountainous zones. There they were soon reduced in numbers and some were exterminated. Hunting in general was responsible for this decline, but it was only after the use of firearms spread to most tribes that several species were completely wiped out.

The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) was historically distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa outside the rainforest belt, where it has been divided into a number of subspecies. All have now been reduced to scattered populations that are highly threatened by loss of habitat, human persecution, and infectious disease. The Chadian wild dog (L. p. sharicus) is confined to disjunct areas of south-eastern Algeria and central and southern Chad.

The Egyptian aoudad (Ammotragus lervia ornata) is a type of wild sheep that was historically widespread throughout the deserts of Egypt, where it was heavily hunted. Thought to be extinct, evidence for its survival was discovered during the late 1990s within a small area of the Eastern Desert. Fassin’s aoudad (A. l. fassini) is confined to extreme southern Tunisia and adjacent north-western Libya.

The dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas) historically occurred over virtually all of North Africa from the Mediterranean to the southern Sahel and from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, extending into southern Israel, Syria, Jordan, and the Horn of Africa. By 1960 it was declining at an alarming rate mainly as a result of motorized hunting. Today it has been much reduced and even eliminated in many parts of its former range. Several ill-defined subspecies are sometimes recognized, all of which are considered vulnerable. They include the Egyptian dorcas gazelle (G. d. dorcas), Eritrean dorcas gazelle (G. d. beccarii), Isabelle dorcas gazelle (G. d. isabella), Moroccan dorcas gazelle (G. d. massaesyla), Algerian dorcas gazelle (G. d. osiris), and Pelzeln’s dorcas gazelle (G. d. pelzelnii). The slender-horned or rhim gazelle (G. leptoceros) was once the most common of all the gazelles living in the Sahara Desert. Today, owing to decades of uncontrolled motorized hunting by Arab tribesmen, at most only a few hundred still survive in isolated areas of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt west of the Nile. There are additional, unsupported reports from Chad and Niger, although it is unclear if the species in fact ever occurred on the south side of the Sahara.

The dama gazelle (Nanger dama) has become seriously threatened owing to ruthless hunting for their bezoars, which are used in ‘traditional medicine’. The nominate form (N. d. dama) was formerly widespread in both the Sahara and Sahel, but has become very rare in the wild. A captive population lives in the Al Ain Zoo, United Arab Emirates. The addra gazelle (N. d. ruficollis) is very rare in the wild but present in captive breeding programmes in Europe, North America, and the Middle East. The mhorr gazelle (N. d. mhorr) historically lived in south-western Morocco and in the north-western Sahara. The last known wild sighting was in 1968, and by 1971 only 12 were known to exist. Fortunately, it still occurs in captive breeding programmes in Europe, North America, North Africa, and the Middle East, and efforts are underway to reintroduce populations to protected areas in the wild. A possible fourth subspecies, the Rio de Oro gazelle (N. d. lozanoi), remains a complete mystery. It was thought that not more than 50 were still in existence in 1968, but there is no information available on its current status. It is worth noting that recent studies have called into question the validity of any dama gazelle subspecies, and suggests that the differences in colour are merely the result of a geographic cline.

The African houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata) still has a wide range across North Africa, occurring in northernmost Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt west of the Nile. There are old records from Sudan as well. It is mainly threatened by hunting.

Zoli’s shield-backed lizard (Philochortus zolii) is known only from five, widely scattered semi-desert localities near oases in south-eastern Algeria, north-eastern Egypt, central Mali, north-western Niger, and northern coastal Libya.

The Taghit spiny-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus taghitensis) is known only from a few specimens collected in central and northern Mauritania and western Algeria. It possibly occurs in Western Sahara and other areas as well. Doumergue’s spinytoed lizard (A. spinicauda) is confined to the Arba Tahtani and El Abiod-Sidi-Cheikh oases of north-western Algeria.

The Mauritanian rock gecko (Pristurus adrarensis) is known only from three specimens collected from two localities in central Mauritania.

Atlantic Coastal Desert

The Atlantic Coastal Desert lies along the western coast of the Sahara, occupying a narrow strip in Western Sahara and Mauritania.

The Tarfaya shrew (Crocidura tarfayensis) is confined to southern Morocco and northern Mauritania. Surveys undertaken since 1980 have failed to find a live specimen, although dead ones have been obtained from owl pellets.

The Eastern Desert

The Eastern or Nubian Desert covers eastern Egypt and northeastern Sudan between the Nile River and the Red Sea.

Heuglin’s gazelle (Eudorcas tilonura) occurs patchily east of the Nile between the southern part of the Red Sea Hills in Sudan and the southern foothills of the Ethiopian highlands in western Eritrea and north-western Ethiopia. The total population is thought to be around 2500–3500.

The Egyptian pygmy shrew (Crocidura religiosa) is known only from two specimens, one collected from the neck of the Nile delta and the other from further down the Nile. A few mummified examples are also known from ancient tombs at Thebes.

The Nile Valley

The Nile Valley is a lush, fluvial area located on both banks of the Nile River in Egypt and Sudan, adjacent to desert. It is characterized by low, rocky hills, and shallow, sandy wadis.

Steudner’s sand gecko (Tropiocolotes nubicus) is known from a few localities in the southern Nile Valley.

The Arabian Desert

The Arabian Desert encompasses a vast area of western Asia from Yemen to the Persian Gulf and Oman to Jordan and Iraq, including most of the Arabian Peninsula. The environment is everywhere hostile, no more so than in the Rub’al- Khali (‘Empty Quarter’), one of the largest continuous bodies of sand in the world. Nevertheless, a number of interesting species managed to survive quite well there, only to be systematically wiped out by humans over the last century or so. If we consider only the larger animals, the inventory of devastation is horrifying. Lions, cheetahs, bears, and deer are all long gone, but as late as 1917 various species of gazelle as well as bustards (Chlamydotis macqueenii) could still be seen almost everywhere, and there were also many Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) and ostrich (Struthio camelus syriacus). The advent of modern firearms, however, resulted in mass slaughter on a massive scale. Gazelles were even machine-gunned by fighter aircraft in several countries in the Middle East. Such treatment is arguably even more deplorable than the slaughter of bison on the American prairies and of various ungulates on the South African veld during the past centuries.

The Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) is a medium-sized antelope that historically occurred throughout most of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sinai, and the Levant north to Kuwait and Iraq. Ruthlessly hunted both by Bedouin tribesmen using modern firearms as well as by motorized hunting parties, the species’ range had already begun to contract by the early years of the twentieth century, with the decline accelerating thereafter. By 1920 the population was separated into areas over 1000 km apart; a northern one in and around the Nafud, and a larger, southern one in the Rub al Khali and the plains of centralsouthern Oman. The northern population was extirpated in the 1950s while, in the south, the range steadily decreased. By the 1960s oryx were restricted to parts of central and southern Oman, where they were continued to be hunted nevertheless. In 1960 and 1961 two parties of poaching sheiks in powerful cars, armed with submachine guns or automatic rifles, slaughtered 60 or 70 of the animals. By 1962, only 11 oryx were believed to remain in Saudi Arabia. The last wild individuals were most likely shot in 1972 on the Jiddat al Harasis. Fortunately, the so-called Operation Oryx program, whereby captive oryx were brought together to the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona, in order to create a breeding nucleus, proved to be highly successful. From this, reintroductions to the wild were made first to protected areas in Oman (from 1982), Saudi Arabia (from 1990), Israel (from 1997) the United Arab Emirates (from 2007), and Jordan (from 2014). There is an additional small, introduced population living on Hawar Island, Bahrain, along with larger, semi-managed ones at several sites in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi gazelle (Gazella saudiya) was historically found in western Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Yemen. Heavily hunted, it is thought to have gone extinct in the wild by the 1980s. Purported surviving captive populations have all proven to be either different species or hybrids. Two other species of gazelle from the Arabian Desert region are threatened. The Arabian sand gazelle (G. marica) is found in the Arabian Peninsula and on a few Persian Gulf Islands, where the total population is estimated at less than 10,000. The Arabian gazelle (G. arabica) is found sporadically on the Arabian Peninsula from Israel through coastal areas of Saudi Arabia (including the Farasan Islands), Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. There is also a small, introduced population on Farur Island, Iran. The last records from Sinai are from 1932.

Jayakar’s agama (Trapelus jayakari) is a type of lizard known only from a few isolated historical records scattered across the south-eastern Arabian Peninsula (Oman, Bahrain, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, and south-eastern Saudi Arabia).

The Omani spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx thomasi) was historically known only from a few localities in Oman, where it has not been recorded from the mainland in several decades. The species still survives on Masirah Island, where it is threatened by loss of habitat. The small-scaled spiny-tailed lizard (U. aegyptica microlepis) and Leptien’s spiny-tailed lizard (U. a. leptieni) are confined to northern Oman and parts of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The Masirah spiny-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus masirae) is known only from a few isolated localities in Oman, including Masirah Island.

The Mazbah rock gecko (Pristurus mazbah) is known only from a single locality in western Yemen.

Wolfgang Boehme’s sand gecko (Tropiocolotes wolfgangboehmei) is known only from two specimens collected from central Saudi Arabia.

The Ayun sand lizard (Mesalina ayunensis) is known only from a small area of south-western Oman.

Leviton’s cylindrical skink (Chalcides levitoni) is known only from a single locality in south-western Saudi Arabia (Jizan region).

The Arabian worm lizard (Agamodon arabicus) is known only from a single specimen collected in southern Yemen in 1901.

The Aden kukri snake (Rhynchocalamus arabicus) is known only from a single specimen collected at an imprecise locality near Aden (Yemen) in 1932.

The Yemeni blind snake (Myriopholis yemenicus) is known only from a single specimen collected in the 1930s from an undefined locality in Yemen.

The Levantine Desert

The Levantine Desert, as here defined, includes all the lowland desert and semi-desert regions of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.

Buxton’s jird (Meriones sacramenti) is a type of rodent confined to the coastal dunes and desert areas of northern Egypt, northern Israel, and Palestine, where it is threatened by habitat destruction.

Savigny’s agama (Trapelus savignii) is a type of lizard confined to the western Negev sands of Israel and the Gaza Strip west across the northern Sinai to the eastern margins of the Nile delta. The Egyptian populations are highly fragmented and have almost been extirpated, as are those historically found south of Tel Aviv.

The Jordanian spiny-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus ahmaddisii) is confined to a small area of central Jordan.

The Sinai cat snake (Telescopus hoogstraali) is known only from four scattered localities, two in the Sinai Peninsula, another in the northern Negev Desert of central Israel, and the Petra area of south-western Jordan.

The Negev Desert

The Negev is a rocky desert that covers more than half of Israel.

The Be’er Sheva spiny-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus beershebensis) is confined to a few localities in south-central Israel.

The Syrian Desert

The Syrian Desert (Badiyat al-Sham in Arabic) is an area of desert, semi-desert, and steppe located in the Middle East between the Orontes and the Euphrates rivers. It includes parts of south-eastern Syria, north-eastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq. It is typically open and rocky, cut with occasional wadis (valleys or dry riverbeds).

The Syrian wild ass (Equus hemionus hemippus), with a shoulder height of just 1 m, was the smallest living horse. It lived in the deserts, semi-deserts, and arid grasslands of Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, western Iran, and Iraq. European travellers to the Middle East during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries reported seeing large herds. However, its numbers began to drop precipitously during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries due to overhunting, and its existence was further imperilled by the upheavals of the First World War. The last known wild individual was shot in 1927 at al Ghams, near the Azraq Oasis in Jordan, in 1927, and the last captive specimen died the same year in the Vienna Zoo, Austria.

Tsolov’s mouse-like hamster (Calomyscus tsolovi) is known only from a small number of specimens said to have been collected in south-western Syria.

The Dasht-e Kavir Desert

The Dasht-e Kavir (also known as the Great Salt Desert) is a large desert located in the middle of the Iranian Plateau in eastcentral Iran (Khorasan, Semnan, Tehran, Isfahan, and Yazd provinces).

The Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) was historically widespread across south-western and central Asia as far as India, but was exterminated by persecution and destruction of its habitat. It was last seen in the Arabian Peninsula in 1950 and in India in 1968, and perhaps held on in Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan into the 1970s. Today the subspecies is only known to occur in protected areas of the Dasht-e-Kavir in Iran, a country where it had also very nearly been exterminated but was saved at the last moment by conservation measures. The total population there is believed to be between 60 and 100.

Miscellaneous Deserts

The Dasht-e Lut is a large salt desert located in south-eastern Iran (Kerman and Sistan/Baluchestan provinces).

Thaler’s jerboa (Jaculus thaleri) is known only from two localities in the Dasht-e-Lut Desert.

The Kharan Desert is a sandy and mountainous area located in south-western Pakistan (Balochistan province).

The Kharan pygmy jerboa (Salpingotulus michaelis) is known only from the Kharan Desert.

Isolated Caves, Springs, and Pools

A large number of species within the Saharo-Arabian Region are confined to caves, springs, and pools. In desert areas wadis – dry (ephemeral) riverbeds that contain water only after heavy rains – are of particular importance to freshwater fishes.

The Dhofar house gecko (Hemidactylus lemurinus) is confined to a few areas of southern Yemen and Oman, where it inhabits the bottoms of wadis.

The Wadi al Khalili toad (Duttaphrynus scorteccii) appears to be confined to Wadi al Khalili, located on a high plateau near Mafhaq in western Yemen.

The Mamilla Pool tree frog (Hyla heinzsteinitzi) is a species of uncertain validity known only from Mamilla Pool, an ancient reservoir located outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. It possibly went extinct in the late 1990s.

Desfontain’s cichlid (Astatotilapia desfontainii) is confined to freshwater springs, irrigated lands, canals, and ditches in Algeria and Tunisia. It is threatened by habitat destruction.

The Hadiyah bream (Acanthobrama hadiyahensis) is confined to the Wadi Hadiyah basin of Saudi Arabia.

The Ksob barbel (Barbus ksibi) is confined to Wadi Ksob in central Morocco.

The Tunisian barbel (Luciobarbus antinorii) is known from artesian wells at Chott el Djerid in southern Tunisia, where it was last recorded in 1989. It may already be extinct, a victim of drought.

The Sahara toothcarp (Aphanius saourensis) was historically found throughout the Oued Saoura basin in west-central Algeria, but is now reduced to a single remnant population. The Azraq toothcarp (A. sirhani) is confined to the Azraq Oasis in Jordan, where water levels are being artificially maintained to counter illegal extraction.

A number of freshwater fish of the genus Garra are confined to small, isolated localities. The Tawi Atair garra (G. dunsirei) is known only from a single sinkhole in the Dhofar region of Oman. The Lorestan garra (G. lorestanensis) is confined to Loven Cave in south-western Iran (Lorestan). The Tashan garra (G. tashanensis) is confined to Tashan Cave in western Iran (Khuzestan province). The Jebel al Akhdar garra (G. longipinnis) is known only from a single wadi in Oman, where it was last reported in 1968. The Wadi Hasik garra (G. smarti) is known only from Wadi Hasik in Oman.

Proudlove’s blind cave loach (Eidinemacheilus proudlovei) is a little-known species fromthe Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

The Haditha Aquifer System

The Haditha aquifer system is a series of limestone karst caves located near Haditha in western Iraq.

The Haditha cave garra (Typhlogarra widdowsoni) is type of blind barb also confined the Haditha aquifer system, where it is accessible through two isolated wells. It is extremely rare.

The Haditha cavefish (Caecocypris basimi) is a poorly known species confined to the Haditha aquifer system, where it is accessible only through a single well. Not recorded since 1983, it may already be extinct due to water extraction.

Wadi Hadhramaut

Wadi Hadhramaut is a large wadi located in Yemen.

The Hadhramaut himri (Carasobarbus exulatus) is a type of barb confined to Wadi Hadhramaut. A single record from Wadi Maran appears to be erroneous.

The smooth garra (Garra lautior) and the spiny garra (G. mamshuqa) are both confined to the Wadi Hadhramaut drainage.

Lakes, Rivers and Marshes

While notably dry, the Saharo-Arabian Region does have a few larger lakes along with the Tigris/lower Euphrates, lower Nile, lower Indus, Orontes, and Jordan river drainages. Pollution and loss of habitat due to drought and water extraction are a constant threat throughout.

The Algerian ribbed newt (Pleurodeles nebulosus) is found patchily in northern Algeria and western Tunisia, where it is threatened by loss of habitat.

Members of the genus Tristramella are among the few cichlids to be found in western Asia. The shortjaw tristramella (T. simonis) is confined to the Jordan River drainage, including Lake Tiberias, in Israel and Syria. Introduced populations also occur in the Nahr al-Kabir and Orontes drainages of Syria. Two populations, variously described either as full species, subspecies (as here) or synonyms have already gone extinct. The Damascus shortjaw tristramella (T. s. magdelainae) is known only from the vicinity of Damascus, in Syria, where it went extinct at some unknown point after its description in the late nineteenth century.

The Syrian spotted bleak (Alburnus qalilus) is confined to parts of three small coastal streams flowing into the Mediterranean, as well as to the reservoir at Nahr al Kabir.

The Moroccan barbel (Luciobarbus issenensis) is confined to the Sous and Massa river drainages of north-western Morocco. The Algerian barbel (L. leptopogon) is known only from its original collection in 1834.

Hasan’s chub (Squalius spurius) is confined to the Orontes and Nahr al-Kabir river drainages of south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria.

The Marqiyah spring minnow (Pseudophoxinus hasani) is confined to Nahr Marqīyah stream in coastal Syria.

The Damascus bream (Acanthobrama tricolor) is confined to southern Syria, where it was last recorded from the Barada River in 1908 and from two specimens collected from the Masil al Fawwar River in the late 1980s. Both rivers have largely dried out due to drought, and what remains is heavily polluted. It is most likely extinct, but may survive in the Golan Heights. The Yarkon bream (A. telavivensis) was historically found in the coastal streams of Israel where, in 1999, it became extinct in the wild due to drought. It has since been reintroduced in a number of rehabilitated localities and artificial ponds within the Yarkon and Tut river drainages.

The Dead Sea toothcarp (Aphanius richardsoni) was historically found in small springs and streams surrounding the Dead Sea in Israel and Jordan, but has been extirpated from all but three areas due to water extraction.

The Moroccan spined loach (Cobitis maroccana) is confined to small tributaries of two rivers (the Loukkos and Sebou) on the Atlantic coast of northern Morocco.

Namir’s stone loach (Barbatula namiri) occurs in the Orontes River watershed and a few other coastal rivers in Lebanon, western Syria, and southern Turkey.

The Damascus sportive loach (Oxynoemacheilus panthera) is confined to the Barada and Awaj rivers in Syria.

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is a large, deep, hypersaline lake bordered by Jordan to the east and by Israel and the West Bank to the west. At 430.5 m below sea level, its surface and shores represent the Earth’s lowest elevation by land.

The Dead Sea garra (Garra ghorensis) is confined to springs and a single wadi in the southern Dead Sea basin. It is now confined to Jordan; the Israel population having been extirpated.

Lake Tiberias

Historically known as the Sea of Galilee, Lake Tiberias (Kinneret Lake) is a large lake in north-eastern Israel. It is the lowest-elevation freshwater lake in the world.

The longjaw tristramella (Tristramella sacra) was endemic to Lake Tiberias. It has not been seen since 1989/1990, either in the lake or in local markets, and is now considered extinct. It is thought that destruction of marshes, the breeding area for this species, may have been the reason for the extinction.

The Oum Erbiah River

The Oum Erbiah River is located in central Morocco.

Hartert’s himri (Carasobarbus harterti) is confined to the Oum Erbiah drainage.

The Oum Erbiah yellowfish (Pterocapoeta maroccana) is known only from a single specimen collected from the Oum Erbiah River at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Lower Tigris/Lower Euphrates River Drainage

The Tigris and the Euphrates, the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia (‘the land between the rivers’), are located in south-eastern Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. The two eventually join in the Shatt al-Arab, which empties into the Persian Gulf.

The Euphrates softshell turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) is still found throughout much of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries, lakes, ponds, and marshlands in south-eastern Turkey (Anatolia), Syria, Iraq, and south-western Iran (Khuzestan province). Habitat destruction and alteration, and in particular dam construction, are the primary threats.

The shabout (Arabibarbus grypus) is a large freshwater carp found throughout the Euphrates and Tigris river drainages, where it is threatened mainly by overfishing.

The leopard barbel (Luciobarbus subquincunciatus), yellowfin barbel (L. xanthopterus), and the pike barbel (L. esocinus) were all historically common within the Tigris and Euphrates drainages, but are now seriously threatened by overfishing, pollution, and dams.

The binni (Mesopotamichthys sharpeyi) is a type of barbel historically found throughout the lower Euphrates and Tigris drainage. Owing to overfishing and loss of habitat it has been extirpated from most of its former range, and now appears to be confined to a few marshy areas in southern Iraq and Iran, and in Lake Assad, Syria.

The kiss-lip himri (Carasobarbus kosswigi) is known only from a few widely separated localities within the Tigris/ Euphrates drainage.

The Mesopotamian Marshes

The Mesopotamian marshes are a historically extensive wetland area located within the Tigris–Euphrates delta of southern Iraq and south-western Iran. Beginning in the 1950s there was a massive loss of this biologically important habitat due to large-scale hydrological projects throughout the Euphrates and Tigris river drainages, as well as by deliberate draining to reclaim land for agriculture and oil exploration. The Iran– Iraq War of the 1980s resulted in particularly extensive damage to the reedbeds in southern Iraq. By 2003 this rare aquatic landscape within a desert had been reduced to just 10 per cent of its former size. Since the end of the Iraq War the marshes have been partially re-flooded, although drought and further dam construction upstream in Turkey, Syria, and Iran have hindering recovery. In 2016 they were declared a UNESCO Heritage Site.

The Iraq smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli) is an isolated population confined to the Mesopotamian marshes.

Bunn’s short-tailed bandicoot rat (Nesokia bunnii) is confined to the marshes of south-eastern Iraq.

The Lower Indus River

The lower Indus River runs the length of western and central Pakistan. Prior to emptying into the Arabian Sea it creates a wide delta of swamps, streams, and mangroves that provide important habitat for migrating waterfowl.

The South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is divided into two subspecies. The Indus River dolphin (P. g. minor) is one of the world’s rarest mammals and most endangered cetaceans. Only about 1000 of this unique subspecies exist today within the lower reaches of the Indus River between the Jinnah and Kotri barrages, and in a few connecting channels. Historically it extended all the way from the Indus delta through a number of tributaries all the way to the Himalayan foothills, but declined after the late nineteenth century due to dam construction.

The Orontes River

The Orontes (Asi in Arabic and Turkish) is a northwardflowing river which begins in Lebanon and continues through western Syria and south-eastern Turkey before finally entering the Mediterranean.

The long-spine bream (Acanthobrama centisquama) was historically known from Lake Amik in south-eastern Turkey and from Lake Al-Gab in Syria, within the Orontes River drainage. Lake Amik was drained in the 1940s. The species is most likely extinct but may survive in Lake Golbasi, a small relict of Lake Amik, which has been heavily impacted by pollution and water extraction.

Lortet’s barbel (Luciobarbus lorteti) is confined to the lower Orontes River in Syria and Turkey. In 1989 much of its habitat was poisoned and dried out, resulting in the species’ extirpation from Lake Amik and presumably other areas.

The Orontes scraper (Capoeta barroisi) is confined to a few areas of the Orontes River drainage in Turkey and Syria.

The Levantine nase (Chondrostoma kinzelbachi) was historically widespread in the Orontes River drainage of Syria and Turkey. It has been extirpated from Syria, and in Turkey is likely confined to a couple of localities.

The Orontes spotted bleak (Alburnus orontis) is confined to the Orontes River drainage in south-eastern Turkey and western Syria.

The Orontes spined loach (Cobitis levantina) is confined to the Orontes River drainage.

The Orontes sportive loach (Oxynoemacheilus hamwii) was historically known from the Orontes River drainage of southeastern Turkey and northern Syria. Now extirpated from the latter country, it survives only in three Turkish streams.

The Litani River

The Litani River (Nahr al-Litani in Arabic) is located in central and southern Lebanon. The longest and largest river in that country, it arises in the Beqaa Valley west of Baalbek and empties into the Mediterranean Sea north of Tyre.

The Ammiq garra (Garra festai) is confined to the Ammiq Marshes, where it is threatened by water extraction.

The Jordan River Drainage

The Jordan River (Nahar ha-Yarden in Hebrew/Narh al-Urdunn in Arabic) flows roughly north to south through Lake Tiberias and on to the Dead Sea. It is bordered by Jordan and Syria to the east, while the West Bank and Israel lie to the west.

The Jordan cichlid (Haplochromis flaviijosephi) is confined to the Jordan River drainage where it occurs in Lake Muzairib and in some spring lakes in southern Syria, as well as in the vicinity of Lake Kinneret and the Beit She’an Valley of northern Israel.

The Jordan barbel (Luciobarbus longiceps) is confined to streams and lakes of the Jordan River watershed in Israel, Syria, and Jordan.

The Drusian spring minnow (Pseudophoxinus drusensis) is confined to a small area of the northern Jordan River drainage (Golan Heights and Jebel Druse) in Israel and Syria. Large subpopulations were observed during the 1980s, but the species declined greatly thereafter due to drought and has not recovered.

Three stone loaches of the genus Nemacheilus endemic to the Jordan River drainage are threatened by habitat destruction, water extraction, and pollution. Dor’s stone loach (N. dori) is confined to the Beit She’an Valley in northern Israel, where the total population is thought to be less than 250. The Golan Heights stone loach (N. pantheroides) is confined to the Golan Heights and the upper Galilee. The Jordan River stone loach (N. jordanicus) is found patchily in Israel, Jordan, and Syria.

The Galilean sportive loach (Oxynoemacheilus galilaeus) was historically confined to Lake Hula in Israel and Lake Muzairib in Syria, within the Jordan River drainage. It has since been extirpated from Lake Hula.

Lake Hula

Located on the upper course of the Jordan River in the Hula Valley, the once large and swampy Lake Hula and its adjacent marshes were deliberately drained in the 1950s and are now greatly diminished.

The Hula painted frog (Latonia nigriventer) was long known for certain only from two localities on the eastern shore of Lake Hula. Swamp-drainage schemes were thought to have exterminated the species in the mid-1950s, but in 2011 it was rediscovered in a very small area of the Hula Nature Reserve.

The Hula bream (Mirogrex hulensis) was driven to extinction by the 1970s due to loss of habitat.

The Hula shortjaw tristramella (Tristramella simonis intermedia) was extinct by the 1970s due to loss of habitat.

Miscellaneous Lakes, Rivers, and Marshes

Lake Sidi Ali is located in the mountains of northern Morocco.

The Sidi Ali trout (Salmo pallaryi) is known only from two museum specimens collected from the lake. It is thought to have disappeared in the 1930s due to competition with introduced carp.

Lake Ifni is a high-elevation lake located in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

The Ifni trout (Salmo akairos) is endemic to the lake.

The Hub River is located in south-western Pakistan (Balochistan).

The Hub torrent catfish (Amblyceps macropterus) is a little-known species confined to the Hub River drainage.

The Kul River is located in Iran.

The Kor sportive loach (Oxynoemacheilus tongiorgii) is known only from a single specimen collected in the Kul River drainage.

The Tensift River is located in central Morocco.

The Tensift yellowfish (Labeobarbus reinii) is confined to the lower courses of the Tensift River.

The Sebou River (Asif en Sbu in Berber) is located in northern Morocco.

The Ouerrha combtooth blenny (Salarias atlantica) is confined to the Ouerrha River in the Sebou drainage.

The Medjerda River (known historically as the Bagrada River) is located in north-eastern Algeria and northern Tunisia.

The Punic spring minnow (Pseudophoxinus punicus) is confined to the Medjerda River drainage.

The Baradá River (Nahr Baradá in Arabic) is located in Syria.

The Baradá spring minnow (Pseudophoxinus syriacus) is confined to the source of the Baradá River, where it may have been driven to extinction by water extraction.

The Ismailia Channel (formerly known as the Sweet Water Channel) is located in north-eastern Egypt. Dug during the late nineteenth century as part of the construction of the Suez Canal, it is now largely dried out and heavily polluted.

The Ismailia tilapia (Oreochromis ismailiaensis) is a type of cichlid known only from the Ismailia Channel.

Coasts and Satellite Islands

This section includes the north-western African coast including the Canary and Madeira Islands, the southern and eastern Mediterranean coasts including Cyprus, the coasts of the Red Sea and Arabian Peninsula, and the northern Arabian Sea.

The four-toed jerboa (Allactaga tetradactyla) is a hopping rodent confined to northern coast of Egypt and Libya, where it is threatened by habitat destruction.

Four species of gerbil (Gerbillus) are threatened by coastal development and human disturbance. The Essaouria gerbil (G. hesperinus) is confined to two sand dune localities north and south of the city of Essaouria, in coastal central Morocco. Grobben’s gerbil (G. grobbeni) is confined to a small area of north-eastern coastal Libya. James’ gerbil (G. jamesi) is confined to a small area of north-eastern coastal Tunisia. The occidental gerbil (G. occiduus) is confined to south-eastern coastalMorocco.

Flower’s shrew (Crocidura floweri) is known only from the Nile River delta, where it may have gone extinct in the early 1960s. However, remains in owl pellets indicate that it survived at least until the 1980s.

The Macaronesian pipistrelle (Pipistrellus maderensis) is a type of bat confined to the Madeira and western Canary Islands, and possibly to the Azores as well. The total population is suspected to be under 1000 individuals.

The Socotra cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) occurs in two subpopulations in the Persian Gulf and the south-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, where it breeds on a small number of offshore islands. Only 13 colonies are known to be active in total, and the species has been greatly affected by loss of habitat, disturbance, and oil spills. The Red Sea cliff swallow (Petrochelidon perdita) is known only from a single specimen found dead in 1984 at Sanganeb lighthouse, north-east of Port Sudan.

Three species of spiny-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus) are threatened by loss of habitat and overcollection for the international pet trade. The Sidi Mechrig spiny-toed lizard (A. mechriguensis) is known only from four localities on the Sidi Mechig beaches of northern Tunisia. The leopard spiny-toed lizard (A. pardalis) is confined to northern Egypt and northeastern Libya. Schreiber’s spiny-toed lizard (A. schreiberi) is known only from a few coastal localities in Israel, Lebanon, south-eastern Turkey and Cyprus, where it is threatened by the development of tourist facilities.

The helmethead gecko (Tarentola chazaliae) is confined to the few localities in the coastal lowlands of the western North African coast, from Agadir in Morocco to Cap Blanc in Mauritania. It is threatened by loss of habitat and overcollection for the international pet trade.

The two-fingered cylindrical skink (Chalcides mauritanicus) and Doumergue’s cylindrical skink (C. parallelus) are both confined to the coast of north-western Algeria and north-eastern Morocco, with the latter found as well on the Chafarinas Islands. They are threatened by habitat destruction due to coastal development.

The Madeira Islands

Situated in the North Atlantic west and slightly south of Portugal, the volcanic Madeira Islands (Ilhas Madeira in Portuguese) consist of Madeira and Porto Santo along with the smaller, uninhabited Desertas and Salvagens Islands.

The Madeiran wood pigeon (Columba palumbus maderensis) was already considered rare during the late nineteenth century, and was most likely extinct by 1924.


Madeira, by far the largest island in the archipelago, was once covered with lush subtropical evergreen forests of a type that was once widespread throughout southern Europe and northwestern Africa. These laurel forest remnants survive intact today only on the steep northern slopes of the island.

The Madeiran scops owl (Otus mauli) is known only from bones, but is believed to have been driven extinct by human settlers in the fifteenth century.

Zino’s petrel (Pterodroma madeira) breeds only on six cliff ledges in the central mountains of Madeira, where the total population is around 200. During non-breeding seasons the species disperses towards the central Atlantic.

The Madeiran laurel pigeon (Columba trocaz) is endemic to Madeira but formerly occurred on Porto Santo as well. At one time abundant, the species declined dramatically to around 2700 birds by 1986, but recovered rapidly soon after thanks to a total ban on hunting. It now occupies all of its former range on the island and is no longer considered to be threatened.

The Desertas Islands

The Desertas Islands are a small archipelago located roughly between Madeira Island and the Canary Islands.

The Desertas petrel (Pterodroma deserta) breeds only on Bugio in the Desertas Islands, ranging throughout the North and South Atlantic at other times.

The Canary Islands

The Canary Islands (Islas Canarias in Spanish) are a rugged, volcanic archipelago located approximately 100 km off the southern coast of Morocco.

The Canarian shrew (Crocidura canariensis) is confined to the eastern Canary Islands of Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Lobos, and Montaña Clara.

The Canarian long-eared bat (Plecotus teneriffae) is confined to Tenerife, La Palma, El Hierro, and probably also La Gomera.

The Canarian Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus majorensis) is confined to the eastern Canary Islands.

The Canarian houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae) is confined to the eastern Canary Islands (Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and La Graciosa), where the total population in the mid-1990s was estimated at between 500 and 1000.

The Canarian black oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus meadewaldoi) was a type of shorebird that occurred on Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and their offshore islets in the eastern Canary Islands. It was last collected in 1913 and locally reported to be absent by the 1940s. There were a few reports of sightings both in Tenerife and in Senegal between 1968 and 1981, but extensive surveys since then have failed to find any evidence of continued survival. The cause of its extinction is believed to be due mainly to the overharvesting of its invertebrate prey.

The Canarian quail (Coturnix gomerae) is known only from bones collected on El Hierro, La Palma, Tenerife, and Fuerteventura, and is believed to have still been present when humans first settled there.

Bolle’s pigeon (Columba bollii) occurs on Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro, and perhaps formerly on Gran Canaria as well. The species suffered historical declines owing to the clearance of its montane laurel forest habitat, but has stabilized now that this has been slowed or stopped. It is no longer considered threatened.

Simony’s cylindrical skink (Chalcides simonyi) is confined to Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and Lobos.


Tenerife is the largest and most populous island in the Canaries. It features Mount Teide, the third tallest volcano in the world as measured from its base on the ocean floor. Also notable is the Macizo de Teno, a large massif in the extreme north-west of the island that reputedly has the largest number of endemic species in Europe.

The Tenerife blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea) is confined to the island where it appears to be largely dependent upon the presence of Canary pine (Pinus canariensis). It is frequently captured for use as a cage bird.

The Tenerife speckled lizard (Gallotia intermedia) was first discovered in 1996 in the Macizo de Teno. It was later also found on a small area of coastline in the extreme west and from Montana de Guaza in the extreme south, suggesting that it was once widespread on the island. It is threatened mainly by feral cats.


The second largest of the Canary Islands, Fuerteventura was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2009.

The Fuerteventura stonechat (Saxicola dacotiae) was historically widespread in the Canary Islands, but now breeds only on Fuerteventura and, occasionally, southern Lanzarote.

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is a roughly round island located south-east of Tenerife and west of Fuerteventura.

The Gran Canaria blue chaffinch (Fringilla polatzeki) is confined to just two localities. A forest fire in 2007 cut its total population in half, but the species has since recovered.

La Gomera

La Gomera is a small, roughly circular and very mountainous island. Remaining areas of laurisilva (laurel rain forest) are protected by Garajonay National Park, although unfortunately nearly 20 per cent of this was lost as a result of a 2012 forest fire.

The La Gomera giant lizard (Gallotia bravoana) was long thought to be extinct, but was rediscovered in 1999. It is confined to two separate, inaccessible cliffs some 2 km apart close to the Valle Gran Rey, in the west of the island. The total world population is around 150.


Lanzarote is a sandy, rocky island located 11 km north-east of Fuerteventura.

The Lanzarote chiffchaff (Phylloscopus canariensis exsul), a type of leaf warbler known from Lanzarote and possibly Fuerteventura, has not been recorded in many years. It is likely extinct due to loss of habitat.

The Chinijo Archipelago is a group of small islands located north of Lanzarote, only one of which is inhabited. Together with the rocky northern coast of Lanzarote they have been designated as a national park.

The Chinijo stonechat (Saxicola dacotiae murielae) formerly occurred on the islands of Alegranza and Montaña Clara, but became extinct during the early twentieth century due to a combination of natural factors and predation by introduced mammals.

La Palma

La Palma is the most north-westerly of the Canary Islands. Although large areas have been deforested, the upland areas still retain some temperate cloud forest.

The La Palma giant lizard (Gallotia auaritae) was long thought extinct until a small, remnant population was rediscovered in northern La Palma in 2007.

El Hierro

El Hierro is the smallest and most south-westerly of the Canary Islands.

The El Hierro chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs ombriosa) is threatened by loss of habitat but is still fairly common.

Two subspecies of Simony’s giant lizard (Gallotia simonyi) were historically found on El Hierro. The Roque Chico de Salmor giant lizard (G. s. simonyi) was confined to a small offshore islet, where it went extinct in the 1930s.The El Hierro giant lizard (G. s. machadoi) was formerly present throughout much of the island, but is now restricted to a few small cliff areas.


The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus (Cipros in Greek/Kibris in Turkish) is located south of Turkey and west of Syria and Lebanon.

The Cyprian mouflon (Ovis gmelini ophion), a type of wild sheep, was nearly exterminated during the twentieth century but now numbers around 3000.

The Cyprian white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus olympicus) was an endemic subspecies of passerine bird that formerly occurred in the Troodos Mountains. Last recorded in 1945, it was almost certainly extinct by 1958.

The Cyprian whip snake (Hierophis cypriensis) is known from a few localities in the Troodos Mountains and the foothills of western Cyprus.

The Socotra Archipelago

The Socotra Archipelago consists of four islands lying between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.


Socotra (Suqutra in Arabic) is by far the largest of the four islands. Described as ‘the most alien-looking place on Earth’, Socotra’s long geological isolation combined with its fierce heat has resulted in unusual plant and animal life. Unfortunately, 2000 years of human habitation, combined with introduced species, have seriously degraded the environment.

The Socotra buzzard (Buteo socotraensis) is estimated to number around 500 individuals.

The Socotra bunting (Emberiza socotrana) is confined to a few localities on Socotra Island.

The Socotra house gecko (Hemidactylus dracaenoculus) is an interesting species, apparently endemic to a single plateau on Socotra where it is thought to be reliant on the resin of the dragon’s blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari).

The short worm lizard (Pachycalamus brevis) is confined to Socotra Island.

The Socotra worm snake (Xerotyphlops socotranus) is known only from a few specimens.

Boulenger’s blind snake (Leptotyphlops macrurus), Wilson’s blind snake (L. wilsoni), and the Socotra blind snake (L. filiformis) are all confined to the island.

Abd al Kuri

Abd al Kuri is a small, rocky island located about 105 km south-west of Socotra.

The Abd al Kuri sparrow (Passer hemileucus) is confined to this tiny island, where the total population is thought to be less than 1000.

Miscellaneous Islands

The Dahlak Archipelago (Arakhbil Dahlak in Arabic) is an island group located near the coast of Eritrea in the Red Sea. It consists of 2 large and 124 small islands, only 4 of which are permanently inhabited.

Cherlin’s saw-scaled viper (Echis megalocephalus) is known only from four specimens collected from ‘an island in the southern Red Sea’. It is thought that this may refer to Nokra Island in the Dahlak Archipelago, or perhaps Dissei Island.

Astola Island (Jezira Haft Talar in Balochi) is a small, rocky, uninhabited island in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Pakistan.

The Astola saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus astolae) is confined to the island.

Sarso Island is located in the Farasan Archipelago, a large coral island group located off south-western Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea.

The Sarso racer (Coluber insulanus) is known from only a single specimen collected in 1964 on Sarso Island.


Anthropogenic effects on the flora and fauna

Modern human beings have inhabited the Saharo-Arabian Region for millennia, where they lived at first as huntergatherers. Western North Africa is believed to have been inhabited by Berbers since at least 10,000 B.C., while the eastern part (the Nile Valley) was primarily home to the Egyptian civilization. Rock art findings within the Sahara have shown that it hosted various populations before its rapid desertification in 3500 B.C, and indeed continues to host a small number of nomadic peoples to this day. The history of the Arabian Peninsula, meanwhile, goes back to the very beginnings of human habitation up to 130,000 B.C., with earlier hominins having lived there very much longer. Its harsh climate, however, prevented much settlement apart from a small number of urban trading settlements such as Mecca and Medina. Throughout the Middle East human impact on the environment was minimal, although in many parts of North Africa and the Middle East large stone corrals were constructed in order to drive herds of gazelle into, making for an easy kill. This method of hunting began in prehistoric times and continued into the early twentieth century.

The ancient cities and early civilizations of the Nile Valley, North Africa, the Near East, and the Arabian Peninsula had all been reasonably familiar to Europeans since classical antiquity. In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great was welcomed as a liberator in Persian-occupied Egypt, where he would subsequently found the city of Alexandria. It would become the prosperous capital of the Ptolemaic dynasty after his death. Following the conquest of the North African and eastern Mediterranean coastline by the Romans the area was fully integrated fully into empire. Roman settlement occurred in what is now Tunisia, Libya, and elsewhere along the coast. Unfortunately, during the Roman Era many species and subspecies were driven to extinction or extirpation by hunting and collection for use in gladiatorial spectacles. Notable among these were the North African elephant (Loxodonta africana pharaoensis) and African lion (Panthera leo). Generally speaking, however, the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans who settled along the coast of North Africa improved the environment, stabilized it and allowed it to flourish. All of these efforts would ultimately be cancelled out, however, by the anarchic impact of invading nomads and conquering Arab tribes, who brought on desert-like conditions and a complete disregard for wildlife. The environmental situation improved during the British, French, and Italian colonial period of the early twentieth century, although since that time the habitat destruction, desertification, and drought have continued to this day. Moreover, the region’s significant stocks of crude oil have created new dangers related to pollution.

In recent historical time (i.e. since A.D., 1500), the Saharo- Arabian Region has lost at least 9 species/10 subspecies of vertebrates. Among the extinct forms 3 species/2 subspecies are mammals, 2 species/5 subspecies are birds, 1 species/1 subspecies are reptiles, and 3 species/2 subspecies are freshwater fishes. Another 8 species/2 subspecies are possibly extinct. In addition, there are 230 species/50 subspecies currently threatened with extinction (that is to say, either Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List, as well as certain forms either listed as Data Deficient or Not Assessed but which are clearly at some risk of extinction). Of these, 57 species/30 subspecies are mammals, 21 species/7 subspecies are birds, 82 species/9 subspecies are reptiles, 10 species/4 subspecies are amphibians, and 60 species are freshwater fishes.


<< Back to The Palearctic Realm