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PART II. – Fauna and flora of South Sinai Francis Gilbert & Samy Zalat South Sinai is one of three richest places in Egypt for biodiversity, the others being the Mediterranean coast and Gebel Elba in the extreme south west. The reason is simple: water. Although visitors may be forgiven for their disbelief, these places have by far the highest and the most reliable precipitation, in the form of rain, snow (in South Sinai) or fog (in Gebel Elba). This section provides a miscellany of the common kinds of animals and plants that live in South Sinai, together with some of the more interesting rarer types. Some have a very restricted distribution and are priority species for conservation. The species are grouped taxonomically, and according to the size, colour, defence or status as a resident or migrant. There are brief notes to introduce each group. The brief account of each species starts with the common and the scientific names, the South Sinai Bedouin (rather than general Arabic) name, and our best understanding of its conservation status (following IUCN categories). Where possible there is a photograph with the notes of interest about the species. A few of the photographs are not of a specimen in South Sinai, but the vast majority are. Information specific to South Sinai about these animals is hard to find since it is scattered in many obscure journals and books. It is easier to look at Egypt as a whole. The following websites and books will help expand on the information presented here, and contain bibliographies to enable you to go further: Egypt’s biodiversity: http://www.biomapegypt.org/biodiversity/index.html General information: http://www.biomapegypt.org/ Research we have done: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~plzfg/ Baha El Din SM (2005) A guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Egypt. AUC Press, Cairo. Basuony M, Gilbert F & Zalat S (2010) Mammals of Egypt: Red Data Listing & Conservation. EEAA, Cairo Boulos L (1999-2005) Flora of Egypt. 4 vols. Al Hadara Publishing, Cairo. Brunn B & Baha El Din SM (1990) Common birds of Egypt. AUC Press, Cairo. Gilbert F & Zalat S (2008) Butterflies of Egypt. EEAA, Cairo. available from http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~plzfg/pdf files/2008 Butterflies.pdf Goodman SM, Meininger PL, Baha El Din SM, Hobbs JJ & Mullié WC (1989) The birds of Egypt. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Hoath R (2005) Field guide to the mammals of Egypt. AUC Press, Cairo Hoath R & Baha El Din M (2000) Wild Sinai: the wildlife of the Saint Katherine Protectorate. Published by the St Katherine Protectorate. Hobbs J (1995) Mount Sinai. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX USA & AUC Press, Cairo Rusmore-Villaume ML (2008) Seashells of the Egyptian Red Sea: an illustrated handbook. AUC Press, Cairo. Zalat S & Gilbert F (1998) A walk in Sinai: St Katherine to Al Galt Al Azraq. available at http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~plzfg/EBBSoc/ejnh.html Zalat S & Gilbert F (2008) Gardens of a sacred landscape: Bedouin heritage and natural history in the high mountains of Sinai. AUC Press, Cairo.

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Page 1: PART II. – Fauna and flora of South Sinai · PART II. – Fauna and flora of South Sinai ... Rusmore-Villaume ML (2008) Seashells of the Egyptian Red Sea: an illustrated handbook

PART II. – Fauna and flora of South Sinai Francis Gilbert & Samy Zalat South Sinai is one of three richest places in Egypt for biodiversity, the others being the Mediterranean coast and Gebel Elba in the extreme south west. The reason is simple: water. Although visitors may be forgiven for their disbelief, these places have by far the highest and the most reliable precipitation, in the form of rain, snow (in South Sinai) or fog (in Gebel Elba). This section provides a miscellany of the common kinds of animals and plants that live in South Sinai, together with some of the more interesting rarer types. Some have a very restricted distribution and are priority species for conservation. The species are grouped taxonomically, and according to the size, colour, defence or status as a resident or migrant. There are brief notes to introduce each group. The brief account of each species starts with the common and the scientific names, the South Sinai Bedouin (rather than general Arabic) name, and our best understanding of its conservation status (following IUCN categories). Where possible there is a photograph with the notes of interest about the species. A few of the photographs are not of a specimen in South Sinai, but the vast majority are. Information specific to South Sinai about these animals is hard to find since it is scattered in many obscure journals and books. It is easier to look at Egypt as a whole. The following websites and books will help expand on the information presented here, and contain bibliographies to enable you to go further: Egypt’s biodiversity: http://www.biomapegypt.org/biodiversity/index.html General information: http://www.biomapegypt.org/ Research we have done: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~plzfg/ Baha El Din SM (2005) A guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Egypt. AUC Press, Cairo. Basuony M, Gilbert F & Zalat S (2010) Mammals of Egypt: Red Data Listing & Conservation. EEAA, Cairo Boulos L (1999-2005) Flora of Egypt. 4 vols. Al Hadara Publishing, Cairo. Brunn B & Baha El Din SM (1990) Common birds of Egypt. AUC Press, Cairo. Gilbert F & Zalat S (2008) Butterflies of Egypt. EEAA, Cairo. available from

http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~plzfg/pdf files/2008 Butterflies.pdf Goodman SM, Meininger PL, Baha El Din SM, Hobbs JJ & Mullié WC (1989) The birds of Egypt. Oxford

University Press, Oxford, UK. Hoath R (2005) Field guide to the mammals of Egypt. AUC Press, Cairo Hoath R & Baha El Din M (2000) Wild Sinai: the wildlife of the Saint Katherine Protectorate. Published by

the St Katherine Protectorate. Hobbs J (1995) Mount Sinai. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX USA & AUC Press, Cairo Rusmore-Villaume ML (2008) Seashells of the Egyptian Red Sea: an illustrated handbook. AUC Press,

Cairo. Zalat S & Gilbert F (1998) A walk in Sinai: St Katherine to Al Galt Al Azraq. available at

http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~plzfg/EBBSoc/ejnh.html Zalat S & Gilbert F (2008) Gardens of a sacred landscape: Bedouin heritage and natural history in the high

mountains of Sinai. AUC Press, Cairo.

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1. Large mammals Unlike sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt is not full of large mammals, but it does have some. In the distant past, several million years ago, there was an extensive and complex fauna of large mammals whose fossils have been much studied from the Faiyum. The gradual drying of North Africa over the last 10,000 years has seen off most species, and some of the survivors were driven to extinction by human hunters of prehistory and history, leaving just a remnant still extant. Not much is known of the prehistoric fauna of Sinai. Certainly this did not contain camels, since they are absent completely from the Pharaonic period in Egypt. Camels seem to have been introduced by humans only about 2000 years ago. Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) Bedouin name: nimr Status: Critically Endangered Probably extinct in mainland Egypt for a long time, the subspecies called the Arabian Leopard, may still hang on in Sinai. There are a few in the Negev desert, but they have disappeared from the Hejaz mountains of Saudi Arabia (although they still occur further south). The difficult mountain terrain and their exceptionally secretive and wary nature makes it very difficult to establish the existence of a breeding population. The last positive record in Sinai was in 1996, and the last definite specimen in 1955. However, they live on in Bedouin stories. In the high passes you can still see leopard traps, long tunnels made from stones with a trapdoor triggered by an attachment to a meat bait. It is still possible that one of the St Katherine Protectorate’s camera traps may one day record one of these magnificent creatures. (photo: wikimedia)

Nubian Ibex (Capra nubiana) Bedouin name: teytal, badana (male) Status: Endangered The magnificent ibex is completely at home in the steep rocky mountains, being able to traverse seemingly impossible paths. They used to live in groups of up to 40 animals, but now fewer than ten. In early February, males use their huge horns to fight for mating access to females. They are vulnerable because they have to drink every day, unlike many other desert animals. The last time they were counted, there were only about 400 in the whole of South Sinai. Luckily in recent years populations seem to be recovering in the Eastern Desert and perhaps also in Sinai. The Nubian Ibex used to be considered merely a subspecies of a much more widespread species, but now it is recognised as a separate species restricted to the Middle East. (photo: Jen Johnson 2005 Safsafa)

Striped Hyaena (Hyaena hyaena) Bedouin name: Dabc, Dabca Status: Not at risk Hyaena are rare but widespread in Egypt and Sinai, part of a large distribution stretching from Pakistan to southern Africa. They are general scavengers and predators, eating a wide variety of different foods including garbage - one of the best places to see them is at night at rubbish dumps. The Bedouin believe they eat one another from stupidity, and keep themselves hidden away for shame; but they also believe that eating hyaena confers great strength and health. Camera traps have photographed hyaena several times, and clearly there is a reasonable population of these interesting creatures in South Sinai. (photo: St Katherine Protectorate camera trap 2002)

Gazelle (Gazella dorcas) Bedouin name: ghazal Status: Vulnerable There are now only two species of gazelle resident in Egypt, both vulnerable to extinction; only the Dorcas Gazelle occurs in Sinai. It lives on sandy plains and wadis in the lowlands, with its stronghold on the El Qaa plain. It enters into the wadis to feed, and crosses over between east and west Sinai via the lower southern wadi systems. In mainland Egypt its main predator used to be the Cheetah, but since its disappearance the main threat is from illegal sport hunting, often on a highly organised scale. Luckily this hardly happens in Sinai, but populations are low and vulnerable. The Dorcas Gazelle lives in pairs or small groups, and feeds on many different kinds of plants. It requires access to water. (photo: St Katherine Protectorate camera trap 2002)

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2. Medium-sized mammals There are a number of rather rare medium-sized mammals in Sinai, but few common ones.By far the most likely to be seen are foxes in the early morning or late evening. Foxes (Vulpes spp) Bedouin name: abu al HuSain, abu risha Status: Not at risk All three Egyptian species of fox occur in South Sinai, and their shrieks punctuate the stillness of the evenings - often sounding like children crying out in pain. The native common species is the Sand Fox (abu risha), smaller than the Red Fox (abu al hussain), with proportionately larger ears, and softer paler fur. The Red Fox has come in with human settlement, and is now the commonest species around St Katherine and the coastal towns, where it feeds on chickens and stray cats. The beautiful Blanford’s Fox is small with very large ears and a huge long bushy tail rather like a cat’s: it is very rare, and occurs only in eastern Sinai, right at the western edge of its world distribution (which runs all the way to Afghanistan). (photo: Jen Johnson June 2005 Wadi Itlah)

Hare (Lepus capensis) Bedouin name: arnab Status: Not at risk Usually called a ‘rabbit’ in Egypt, hares are very common all over Egypt, including Sinai. They rely on remaining hidden in a hole or under a plant until the last minute, and so normally the only view of them is an animal rushing away at top speed from under one’s feet. They feed on plants such as Zygophyllum at night, and if necessary can survive just on the water taken in with their food. They breed more in the lowlands because litter sizes reduce with altitude, and hence they are not so common in the mountains. Although hares from South Africa to Egypt are all called the same species, the Cape Hare Lepus capensis, probably the situation is in reality more complex and several species are involved: Egypt’s hares probably belong to a North African version as yet unnamed. (photo: wikimedia)

Hyrax (Procavia capensis) Bedouin name: wabr Status: Not at risk Hyrax are peculiar animals both zoologically and anthropologically. They used to be regarded as the closest living relatives of elephants; now we think probably that elephants and dugongs are close relatives, and the hyrax is their next sister-group. Anthropologically Joe Hobbs described the peculiar position of hyrax in the pantheon of the Macaza Bedouin of the Eastern Desert as different from other animals, and close to humans because of their rather hand-like feet and lack of a tail. The Macaza do not hunt or eat hyrax because of this view. However, Sinai Bedouin seem to take a different view and some have eaten them, while Saudi Bedouin are said to regard hyrax meat and blood as an aphrodisiac. There is a captive colony that can be viewed at the end of Wadi Arbaein, close to the town of St Katherine. Otherwise hyrax can be hard to see, because their colonies are patchy and they stay motionless much of the time. They are ancient inhabitants of Egypt: the characteristic white stains of their faeces can be seen on rocks in Gebel Uweinat in the far southwestern corner of Egypt, where the animals have not lived for several thousand years. (photo: Sean Dunkin July 2003 Wadi Arbaein)

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3. Small mammals Like mammals in general, the majority of Egypt’s 94 species of terrestrial mammal are bats and rodents, i.e. small. As with many animal and plant groups, the highest diversity occurs in South Sinai, along the north coast from Libya to the Delta, and in Gebel Elba in the far southeast. All of Egypt’s five endemic mammal species are small (two gerbils, two shrews and the Egyptian Weasel), but none is confined to Sinai. Spiny Mice (Acomys spp) Bedouin name: far Status: Not at risk Spiny mice are large golden-coloured mice with a set of extra thick stiff hairs (‘spines’) on the front part of their backs. There are two species in Sinai, the Golden Spiny Mouse (A.russatus) and the Sinai Spiny Mouse (A.dimidiatus): a third, the Cairo Spiny Mouse (A.cahirinus), occurs throughout mainland Egypt. They are associated with the Bedouin walled gardens, typically making their nests amongst the stones of the walls. The Golden Spiny Mouse has a restricted distribution in the southern Middle East, whereas the Sinai Spiny Mouse, despite its name, ranges from Sinai to Pakistan. Normally both are nocturnal, but where they occur together, as in the South Sinai mountains, the Golden Spiny Mouse becomes diurnal. Their spines are part of a clever defence mechanism against their predators: the spines repel many would-be predators, but if they are grasped, a large patch of skin comes away completely (as does the tail skin) and the mouse escapes - it is the mouse equivalent of a lizard breaking off its own tail. Because of this mechanism, Acomys blood clots incredibly quickly so they do not lose too much after their escape. (photo: Mike James 2001 Wadi Arbaein)

Sinai Dormouse (Eliomys melanurus) Bedouin name: abu kohla Status: Endangered This beautiful animal is called ‘abu kohla’ by the Bedouin because of the diagnostic dark rings around its eyes, extending back to the ears like a pair of spectacles: ‘kohl’ is the dark eye-shadow makeup used by Middle Eastern women since the Pharoahs. It has a long tail with a dark bushy tip, large ears and long complex whiskers. Its distribution is small, from Libya to the Middle East, and hence Sinai populations are significant on the world scale. It occurs mainly away from the Bedouin gardens on the rocky sides of the wadis, where it feeds at night on plant material and insects. The Sinai Dormouse is always much rarer in the wadis than the Spiny Mice, and there is not a great deal known about its biology. (photo: NCS (Abdallah Nagy))

Sinai Barbastelle (Barbastellus leucomelas) Bedouin name: khofash Status: Vulnerable A small black-brown bat with relatively short wide ears joined at the forehead, with the tragus in the ear hairy, triangular and more than half as long as the ear. This is one of rarest of all Palaearctic bats, with the smallest known distribution of any Palaearctic bat. It was originally discovered in 1822 or 1826 by Rüppell in Sinai. His two specimens were matched only by a handful from Israel until 2005, when Dr Christian Dietz caught the species again after 183 years. Unlike most other bats, barbastelles specialize almost exclusively on moths, especially moths that listen in to bat echolocation calls. Moth populations are therefore critical to the survival of the Sinai Barbastelle, making the installing of streetlights along the highway to St Katherine of particular concern. (photo: Christian Dietz 2005 St Katherine)

Long-eared bats (Plecotus christii, Otonycteris hemprichii) Bedouin name: khofash Status: Not at risk These two lovely desert bats with their characteristic over-sized ears are quite common in Sinai, foraging in Bedouin gardens and around open water sources such as the irrigation tanks. They are highly manoeuverable in flight, flying slowly and carefully around trees and vegetation as they glean mainly moths from the leaves. The huge ears receive even the smallest echoes, enabling them to forage in this way. Otonycteris produces a honeybee-like buzz in flight. (photo: Petr Benda Sept 2005 Wadi Feiran)

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4.a Resident birds About 50 species of bird are resident in South Sinai, a reasonable number given the paucity of its resources and its arid barren nature. For true birders there are rather few specialities apart from Tristram’s Grackle and the Sinai Rosefinch. White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga) Bedouin name: bagaca Status: Not at risk A small black bird with a white rump, under-tail coverts and outer tail feathers, together with a white crown in adults. This bird is one of the commonest and friendliest of the breeding birds of Sinai. The Bedouin call them ‘birds of happiness’, and welcome them around their houses. Pairs stay together for life, and inhabit one territory continuously until one dies or disappears. In spring and summer, males produce their lovely liquid song (rather like a blackbird or a robin song from northern Europe) from singing posts around the pair’s territory. They spend much of the day looking for insects on plants, the ground or in camel dung. At night each bird sleeps in a permanent individual rock crevice, often far away from that of its mate. Like other wheatears, adults collect stones and place them around their nests, a peculiar behaviour thought in other species to play a role in females selecting a mate on the basis of their performance. However, unlike other wheatear species, in Sinai it is the female who collects about 150 large flat stones, with which she creates a tessellated pavement approach to the nest. The Bedouin say it is to warn the birds of the approach of a snake by the rattle of the stones as the snake moves. Juveniles less than a year old lack the white crown and remain in their parents’ territory, but are driven off before the next breeding season. (photo: Mike James 2001 St Katherine)

Tristram’s Grackle (Onychognathus tristramii) Bedouin name: shaHrur Status: Not at risk A medium-sized black bird with orange patches in the outer part of the wings. Technically this species is actually a starling, the most northerly representative of the genus Onychognathus, which has a number of species in sub-Saharan Africa. It is restricted in its distribution to the area between Israel, Jordan, south through Sinai and western Saudi Arabia to Yemen. In Sinai individuals move around in small groups of 2-5 birds, producing a loud and characteristic whistle, especially in the early morning. They are omnivores on fruit and insects, and are said to groom ibex and domestic livestock for parasites. They can fly several kilometres from roosting and breeding sites in search of food, thereby effecting long-distance dispersal of plant seeds. Adults nest in deep holes and crevices in cliffs, and like the pigeon have adapted well to living with humans; as a result, their range is gradually expanding. (photo: Fred Manata June 2005 St Katherine)

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) Bedouin name: jamaam Status: Not at risk Unmistakeable member of the turtle doves, a group of birds mainly found in tropical Africa. The Laughing Dove itself has a large distribution from most of Africa across to India. These doves are some of the commonest residents of South Sinai, especially in Bedouin gardens. Their soft cooing call is very characteristic of the wadis. They feed mainly on seeds and fruits, such as olives and pomegranates. (photo: unknown)

Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta) Bedouin name: abu lefSay Status: Not at risk A tiny but noisy warbler with a habit of cocking its long tail as it moves over the rocks. It is insectivorous, but little seems to be known about its biology apart from their predilection for arid lands. The Bedouin name means ‘tell-tale tit’ because they are always chattering about what is happening in the wadis, which sometimes is supposed to be secret. The Bedouin also say these birds warn other animals about people and snakes by giving out a special kind of alarm call. (photo: Tim Hurst June 2005 St Katherine)

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4.b Resident birds In the past there were several species of raptors, including the Lammergeier, but virtually all of these have disappeared either because of hunting, or because of climate change. Indeed, in the 1930s one experienced hunter stated that “practically every other bird in Sinai is a falcon, hawk or eagle”, a very different situation from that of today. Occasional records suggest that breeding of raptors still occurs, such as the adult and juvenile Verreaux’s Eagles seen in June 2005. Sinai Rosefinch (Carpodacus synoicus) Bedouin name: jazama Status: Not at risk A finch with a very thick bill, with the males suffused with a rosy red colour over head and front half of the body. They are more usually nowadays called the Pale Rosefinch because they are far from being restricted to Sinai - indeed, their Sinai distribution is a marginal outpost of a much wider distribution right across to China. They are common the South Sinai, feeding especially on seeds in fresh camel dung: one of the most reliable places to see them is on the paths to Mt Sinai in the early morning, after the camels have finished transporting visitors. They also feed on fruit and are fond of grapes and figs. They disappear from the high mountains in winter because they form winter flocks and move down in altitude. (photo: Mike James 2001 Safsafa)

Partridges (Alectoris chukar, Ammoperdix heyi) Bedouin name: shiner, hajal Status: Not at risk The Chukar and the Sand Partridge are both commonly seen running along the ground in small family groups in the early morning or late afternoon. One of the group acts as a sentinel, standing on a high point and keeping watch while the others feed. Chukars in Sinai are an isolated population at the extreme west and south of their natural distribution. The Bedouin say that the Sand Partridges of each wadi are a different colour which, if true, would be extremely interesting scientifically. (photo: Tim Hurst June 2005 Wadi Arbaein)

Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti) Bedouin name: riHidin Status: Not at risk The Desert Lark is the kind of bird that gets ornithology a bad name: a ‘little brown bird’ that is very difficult to identify. It is a medium-sized bird with a noticeably thick yellow-based bill, and a nondescript sand colour that blends in with the rocks, providing a very effective camouflage. They tend to occur as singles or in pairs, and are in fact very common. (photo: Jen Johnson June 2005 Wadi Arbaein)

Blackstart (Cercomela melanura) Bedouin name: qelicei aswad al zanab Status: Not at risk A beautiful ash-grey all over except the dark tail and shoulder patch. It is a friendly species, showing little fear of humans. It often fans its wings and tail, and then closes them again, especially when landing or changing perch. Insects are the main food, searching for them in the gardens and orchards. It is less common in the high mountains of the Ring Dyke than elsewhere. (photo: Kathy Meakin Aug 2005 Wadi Gharaba)

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5. Summer birds Birds that are summer visitors to the high mountains take advantage of the abundance of plants and insects here, allegedly the wettest place in Egypt. It is also the coldest, one reason to abandon the area in winter. Rock Martin (Ptyonoprogne fuligula) Bedouin name: al baHit Status: Not at risk The northern pale subspecies of this bird, including Sinai, are sometimes called a separate species, the Pale Crag Martin P.obsoleta. It is a typical martin in shape, with a mainly earth-brown colour, paler on the throat and breast, and only the carpal areas under the wing are dark; notice also the pale ‘window’ spots in the ends of the tail feathers when it splays out its tail. The very similar Crag Martin is generally darker, especially on the throat and underwing coverts. The Rock Martin is very common indeed in the wadis of South Sinai in spring and summer, catching insects on the wing during effortless swooping dives and glides. Like its relatives, it builds a nest from mud globules fused together into a shallow bowl, and stuck onto the rock. Unlike them, it does not nest gregariously. (photo: Fred Manata June 2005 St Katherine)

Palestine Sunbird (Nectarinia osea) Bedouin name: tameir carabi Status: Not at risk This species is a summer visitor to the high mountains, moving away to lower elevations in the winter. The long curved bill is diagnostic: the beautiful males with their dark purple glossy plumage (which often just looks black) are unmistakeable, but females are drab.They feed on nectar from flowers, and also catch insects. They only occur in Sinai within Egypt. (photo: Tim Hurst June 2005 St Katherine)

Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus) Bedouin name: bulbul Status: Not at risk Bulbuls are thrush-sized dark-grey and dirty greyish-white birds with long tails, and darker grey-black on the face and throat. The Yellow-vented Bulbul has a yellow vent and white eye-ring: it has always been a breeding resident in Sinai. Bulbuls occur in small groups, and are noisy and hence noticeable. They disappear from the mountains during winter, and hence probably move down to lower elevations. (photo: unknown)

Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraäetus fasciatus) Bedouin name: ciqab Status: Not at risk This is a medium- to large-sized eagle. From below, adults have a white body, dark wings with the leading edge white, and a dark tail with a darker broad terminal band; from above, adults also have whitish markings on their back, behind the head. Juveniles are reddish underneath, and harder to identify. There have been 2-3 individuals flying around the town of St Katherine and Wadi Arbaein during the late summer and early autumn, giving hope that breeding might have occurred.

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6. Migrant birds Sinai is part of the major eastern flyway for migrating birds on their way from the Palaearctic to Africa for the winter, and back again in spring, and therefore millions of birds pass over it. The spring migration has markedly fewer birds than in autumn. White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) Bedouin name: najac Status: Not at risk White Storks are easily recognisable in flight with their strong black-and-white pattern and their habit of flying in large flocks. Many thousands pass through Sinai on their way to and from their winter feeding grounds in Africa. They fly along the coasts rather than high over the mountains, and so the best place for seeing them is at the coast, especially at Sharm el Sheikh. Town rubbish dumps attract huge numbers trying to feed before crossing the sea to reach Africa. (photo: wikimedia)

Warblers Bedouin name: jazjuz Thousands of warblers pass through Sinai on migration. They come in waves of single species at particular times of year. For example, in late August the gardens are filled with Olive-tree (Hippolais olivetorum) and Olivaceous Warblers (Hippolais pallida). They feed on insects and fruit from the gardens while on the move. Probably the Bedouin gardens represent a very important resource to migrants since immediately afterwards they face the rigours of the desert before reaching the rich feeding grounds of sub-Saharan Africa. (photo: Mike James 2001 St Katherine)

Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) Bedouin name: Saqr Status: Not at risk Buzzards are medium-sized broad-winged soaring raptors with medium-length tails. Long-legged Buzzards are variable in colour but have obvious black carpal patches when seen in flight. Most buzzards are seen as migrants in Sinai, especially in autumn. Long-legged Buzzards are known to breed in Sinai, including in the St Katherine area, but such events are probably very rare. Buzzards are therefore unusual unless you observe their migration at particular places, such as Sharm el Sheikh or Suez. (photo: Tim Hurst June 2005 Wadi Itlah)

Sooty Falcon (Falco concolor) Bedouin name: Saqr Status: Near Threatened Adults of this medium-sized falcon are unique in being a uniform bluish-grey, including the ‘trousers’, and a uniform grey under the wings. A scattered distribution around the Red Sea, eastern Libya and the Persian Gulf makes this a rare species. Like the related Eleonora’s Falcon, Sooty Falcons time their breeding in late summer to take advantage of migrating birds, their main prey. They breed on cliffs and mountains in the desert, and especially on coral islands in the Red Sea. They are not uncommon in the wadis of South Sinai.

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7. Lizards on rocks Being ‘cold-blooded’, lizards use the sun to warm up so that they are able to move quickly and escape their predators, mainly birds. Therefore they spend lots of time basking on the top of rocks and walls, making them easy to see with decent binoculars. Sinai Agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus) Bedouin name: el bleeS qadi Sina’ Status: Not at risk Like the Starred Agama, this is a fairly large lizard with a heart-shaped head and strongly built body; the legs are long and slender, and the ears very large and obvious. In the breeding season the male has a startlingly turquoise-blue colour of variable extent over the head and front parts of the body, or sometimes even more; the extent of the blue is a signal of dominance and territory ownership, and fades rapidly in individuals that lose confrontations with other males. When breeding the female has a blue head and some brick-red bands on the back. The male is often encountered perched on the top of a rock, keeping watch for intruders into his territory; there is about one territory every half-a-kilometer of wadi. It ranges from Libya to Saudi Arabia. (photo: Mike James 2001 St Katherine)

Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio) Bedouin name: hardun Status: Not at risk This fairly large lizard has the typical broad heart-shaped head and strongly built body of the agamids. It is identified by its spiny tail, the band of lumpy enlarged keeled scales along the sides of the back, the ca. five transverse yellow bands on the back, and the conspicuously banded yellow and black tail. With only a small distribution in Sinai and adjacent mountains areas of Israel, Jordan and NW Saudi Arabia, it is frequently seen in the mountains sunning on rocks, or waiting to attack passing large insects such as dragonflies. (photo: unknown)

Fan-footed Gecko (Ptyodactylus spp) Bedouin name: nataaga Status: Not at risk The ‘fan’-shaped feet are diagnostic of these geckos, which are often found during the day on rocks in the wadis. There are two species in South Sinai, one with a tail longer (Egyptian Fan-footed Gecko, P.hassequistii, nocturnal, found at low elevations <900 m) and one shorter than the snout-vent distance (Spotted Fan-footed Gecko, P.guttatus, more diurnal, found at high elevations >800 m). Both species are very common, especially near water. (photo: Tim Hurst June 2005 Wadi Itlah)

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8. Lizards on sand Sand is a major habitat for lizards; they are even found in the remotest depths of the Western Desert, far from any vegetation or water. The ecosystem there is based on food input in the form of dying migrant birds, which are then fed upon by a little foodweb of insects, lizards and some mammals. Bosc’s lizard (Acanthodactylus boskianus) Bedouin name: cerbaana Status: Not at risk A sand-coloured fast-moving elongated lizard with fringes on its toes, mostly encountered on sand or gravel. It is the commonest lizard in South Sinai, and the only member of its genus except on the plain of El Qaa by the Suez Gulf, where the Nidua Lizard A.scutellatus also occurs. It feeds on insects, and in the morning and evening spends a lot of its time basking to maintain its body temperature. (photo: Mike James 2001 St Katherine)

Dabb lizards (Uromastyx spp) Bedouin name: Dhab Status: Near Threatened Large, strongly built lizards with short thick tails. There are two species in South Sinai: the Egyptian (U.aegyptia), up to 70 cms long, with spiny tubercles on the flanks of the rear part of the body; and the beautifully coloured Ornate (U.ornata), up to 40 cms long, with smooth flanks but with large spiny tubercles on the upper thigh. They are diurnal, living on large gravel plains and wide wadis, where they feed on plants and seldom stray far away from their burrows. In the past these lizards were eaten by the Bedouin. (photo: Francis Gilbert 1995 Wadi Isla)

Ocellated skink (Chalcides ocellatus) Bedouin name: dufan Status: Not at risk Skinks differ from lacertid lizards in having a series of pores on the underside of their back legs. The Ocellated skink has a rounded snout in profile rather than wedge-shaped with a sharp edge, smooth dorsal scales, and is usually olive-grey or brown with scattered white and black scales. There is only one species of the genus in South Sinai. They occur near vegetation, and are usually crepuscular, with variable diurnal and/or nocturnal activity. (photo: Mike James 2001 St Katherine)

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9. Snakes Snakes are still fairly common in Egypt, and there are a number of poisonous species to be aware of. Mostly they avoid humans and thus luckily they are seldom seen. Burton’s Carpet Viper (Echis coloratus) Bedouin name: haya, abu gabali Status: Not at risk Vipers have triangular heads with hollow hinged poison fangs, a vertical pupil to the eye, keeled scales, and a stocky build with a short tail. Echis is a fairly large snake (up to 50 cms) with a dorsal pattern of alternating dark-edged pale-grey saddles and large rufous-brown blotches, a lateral series of dark spots, a dark-grey band from the eye to the corner of the mouth, and no ‘horns’. It is a characteristic but uncommon species of the steep slopes of the high mountains, often near water. It is crepuscular and nocturnal, and is dangerously venomous. (photo: Fred Manata June 2005 St Katherine)

Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes) Bedouin name: haya Status: Not at risk Despite the name, only about half of Horned Vipers in Egypt have horns; it is a large snake up to 74 cms long, sandy-coloured with large brown spots or squares on the dorsal midline alternating with smaller lateral dark spots. A species typical of wadis with vegetation and sandy areas, it also occurs in a wide variety of other habitats; it is more common at lower elevations. It buries itself in sand under vegetation, waiting for suitable prey to come to rest in the shade. (photo: wikimedia)

Hoogstraal’s Cat Snake (Telescopus hoogstraali) Bedouin name: haya Status: Endangered A medium-sized thin snake with a black head and neck, and a grey body with about 30-40 thin black bands. This is a rare species, endemic to a very small area of Sinai, the Negev and western Jordan. Not a great deal is known about its biology, but it is nocturnal, foraging among plants in mountain wadis. (photo: Linzy Elton Aug 2009 Wadi Gebal)

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10. Blue butterflies A large proportion of Egypt’s 61 species of butterfly belong to the Lycaenidae, the Blues family. This is because many blues are adapted to arid habitats, perhaps not unconnected with their ability to form specialised relationships with ants, either obligate or not. South Sinai has two of the half-a-dozen candidates for the smallest butterfly in the world. All butterflies are called “farasha” by the Bedouin. Sinai Baton Blue (Pseudophilotes sinaicus) Status: Critically Endangered The Sinai Baton Blue butterfly is flagship species for the St Katherine Protectorate, because it is endemic to a tiny area of no more than 5 x 5 km around St Katherine, ocurring nowhere else in the world. It is an absolutely tiny species, with some males with wings no more than 6.5 mm long! The hair-fringes of the wings are basally black, a diagnostic feature. The adults feed only on the nectar and the larvae only on the flower buds of the Sinai Thyme Thymus decussatus, itself a rare near-endemic plant. The larvae are protected by one ant species (Lepisiota obtusa) against another predatory ant (Camponotus aegyptiacus) in return for the sugary secretions of the larva’s special glands. (photo: Mike James 2002 Safsafa)

Sinai Hairstreak (Satyrium jebelia) Status: Critically Endangered Like the Sinai Baton Blue, the Sinai Hairstreak is also endemic to the high mountains of the St Katherine Protectorate. It has a green underside with a prominent thin white line across the middle. It has not been studied, and hence less is known about it. Adults can be seen at the right time of the year flying around trees of the scattered and very rare Sinai Buckthorn Rhamnus disperma, but also Sinai Hawthorn Crataegus sinaica and cotoneaster Cotoneaster orbicularis. The larvae feed on Buckthorn, and perhaps the other species as well. (photo: Mike James 2001 Safsafa)

Burning Bush Blue (Iolana alfierii) Status: Vulnerable The fabulous blue colour of the male of this species is very obvious in the early spring, if you are lucky enough to encounter it. It is a near-endemic, occurring only in Sinai, the Negev and Jordan. The larval foodplant is Moses’ Stick Colutea istria, a small tree whose flowers produce the inflated seedpods in which the larvae feed. It is able to survive bad years because some larvae do not emerge in the year after they were born, but delay from one to several years. (painting: Ahmed Gheith)

Grass Jewel (Chilades trochylus) Status: Not at risk A tiny butterfly that is mainly brown, but with orange on the rear edge of the underside of the hind wing, peppered with a line of black spots each topped with a metallic green spot. These are very common butterflies, usually to be found near their larval foodplant, the small prostrate plant Andrachne telephioides that can be much harder to find than the butterfly itself! (photo: Kathy Meakin 2005 Wadi Arbaein)

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11. Other butterfies Other butterflies include a Swallowtail, a Brown and a fair few White butterflies with varied life histories. South Sinai contains about two-thirds of all Egypt’s recorded species of butterfly. Saharan Swallowtail (Papilio saharae) Status: Vulnerable A fairly rare species in mainland Egypt, the Swallowtail is rather more common in Sinai, but is still an unusual sight. Feeding on species of Haplophyllum and umbellifers, the huge and colourful larva is unique. (photo: Jen Johnson June 2005 St Katherine)

Desert Grayling (Pseudotergumia pisidice) Status: Vulnerable The only all-brown butterfly in Egypt. This is the only member of the Browns (the Satyridae) to be resident in Egypt, and it occurs only in Sinai, where it is a very common butterfly. Indeed, quite probably this is not really the Desert Grayling, but a new and un-named unique Sinai endemic, with an isolated distribution in the South Sinai mountains: only molecular analysis will tell. Its larva feeds on grasses. (photo: Fred Manata June 2005 St Katherine)

Salmon Arab (Colotis fausta) Status: Vulnerable Unmistakeable: salmon pink all over. A beautiful butterfly to see flying past in the wadis in summer, the Salmon Arab has two generations per year, its larva feeding on the very common caper plant, Capparis spp. In some years it can be very common, and then in others one hardly sees it at all. (painting: Ahmed Gheith)

Desert White (Pontia glauconome) Status: Not at risk A white butterfly with black blotches on the wingtips, and the underside of the hindwing covered with green blotches, with the veins picked out in yellow. A fairly common butterfly, especially in cultivated areas and in the mountains of South Sinai, the larva feeds on crucifers such as Silla Zilla spinosa, with two or more generations per year. (photo: Jen Johnson June 2005 St Katherine)

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12. Insects There is a huge variety of hundreds of species of insects other than butterflies that live in South Sinai. We have picked out a handful of interesting ones here to represent this variety. Many wadis have yet to be visited and explored by biologists, and hence there are many species yet to be described. Painted Grasshopper (Poekilocerus bufonius) Bedouin name: zagaT, ghakhdab Status: Not at risk This is a large dark-coloured grasshopper that feeds on poisonous plants and ‘borrows’ their poisons to defend itself; when approached or touched, it exudes a froth from its wingbases that contains these poisons. Its Bedouin name means “the one that sprays poison onto girls’ faces”. The female is about twice as big as the male. They occur on asclepiads such as Sinai milkweed Gomphocarpus sinaicus and Sodom Apple Calotropis procera, which contain heart poisons - the cardenolides. (photo: Fred Manata June 2005 Wadi Itlah)

Darkling beetle (Adesmia spp) Bedouin name: coeir el banaat Status: Not at risk The Darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae) are the dominant kind of beetle in the desert, and there are many species, some of which belong to the genus Adesmia. Their domed shape remind the Bedouin of donkeys, and the name here means ‘new-born donkey for girls’. They are important scavengers on decaying plant and animal material, and also act as vectors of the parasites of Spiny mice. (photo: wikimedia)

Lunate hoverfly (Scaeva pyrastri) Status: Not at risk This is the largest of a number of species of the true flies (Diptera) that resemble one another, and can only be told apart by an expert with a microscope. They are beneficial insects to farmers and gardeners because their larvae feed on aphids. (photo: Fred Manata June 2005 St Katherine)

Red Darter (Crocothemis erythreae) Bedouin name: ghezlan Status: Not at risk A dragonfly that is blood-red all over in the male; females are brown. These are very common in Sinai, but very little is known of their biology there. Contrary to popular belief, dragonflies are absolutely characteristic of desert environments, using their strong ability to fly to discover every possible water source in which to lay their eggs. Both larvae and adults are fierce predators, the larvae in water and the adults in the air. (photo: Mohamed Eid 2007 Wadi Shaq)

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13. Anthropods Some ‘creepy crawlies’ are just simply unpleasant, and Sinai has its fair share, including the fearsome Camel Spider. Camel spider (Galeodes spp) Bedouin name: Tarid el jamal Status: Not at risk These primitive spiders are the stuff of nightmares. Essentially a huge pair of jaws on legs - in fact relative to its size the largest and most powerful jaws on the planet! - it moves with lightning speed over the rocks, and frightens even the bravest of men. Some individuals seem the size of dinner plates, with legs that span up to 15 cms. Luckily they are largely nocturnal, feeding on anything they can catch, including small birds and mice. The Bedouin name means’ repeller of camels’, and they maintain that these spiders are deadly poisonous: however, whilst they are capable of a painful bite, in fact they are not poisonous at all. (photo: wikimedia)

Deathstalker scorpion (Leiurus quinquestriatus) Bedouin name: caqrab Status: Not at risk The yellow Deathstalker scorpion is extremely common in South Sinai, and is much feared by the Bedouin for its highly poisonous and painful sting, which can be dangerous for very small children or old people. Like all scorpions, the Deathstalker fluoresces at night and can be easily seen with a UV light while it is hunting for prey. (photo: wikimedia)

Camel tick (Hyalomma spp) Bedouin name: qorad Status: Not at risk Huge camel ticks used to be a common sight on Bedouin camels, like large date-fruit shapes hanging down between the front legs, full of blood, or empty of blood scuttling in amongst the saddle clothes. The advent of the veterinarians of the Protectorates means that now most camels are treated, and the ticks are much rarer. The ticks are common in the sand where camels rest; they come out and follow large animals that are nearby, including humans. Try to move around, and see it follow you! (photo: wikimedia)

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14.a Trees Trees are vital elements of most ecosystems, including even the desert. Here are three very characteristic species that you will see in Sinai. Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) Bedouin name: nakhl The Date Palm is characteristic of the desert, and has been cultivated for thousands of years. Trees are either male or female, and most pollination occurs not by the wind, as naturally, but artificially by humans physically taking male catkins to female flowers. They grow at low altitudes and are rather rare higher up in the mountains. A Feiran date stuffed with an almond is a sweet for which Sinai used to be famous. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Abu Seila)

Sodom Apple (Calotropis procera) Bedouin name: cosher Status: Not at risk A small tree with large fleshy leaves, large white clustered flowers with purple tips to the fleshy petals, and large round green fruits; damaging the plant causes a thick milky juice to be exuded, which is full of heart poisons (cardenolides). It is a plant of disturbed ground, and is said to be an indicator of overgrazing; rather rare in Sinai, it is not a plant of the high mountains, but is most common close to the sea. It is pollinated by a large carpenter bee that flies very long distances (many km) between individual trees. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Nuweiba)

Acacia (Acacia tortilis) Bedouin name: seyaal Status: Not at risk Like date palms, acacia trees are characteristic of the desert. There are a number of species in Egypt, and four in Sinai (but only this one is common), all thorny trees or shrubs with bipinnate leaves, i.e. the leaf is divided into leaflets which themselves are also divided into leaflets. Acacias are key species in desert communities, supporting a huge range of insect and vertebrate herbivores, including Bedouin livestock. They can survive long periods of drought, making them a very reliable resource in a harsh environment. The Bedouin therefore take great care with the trees, protecting them from damage or exploitation. (photo: Zoltan Matrahazi 2008 Wadi Kid)

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14.b Trees Here are a few more trees that are notable in South Sinai, including one - tamarisk - that might even be said to form ‘forests’! Retem, White Broom (Retama raetam) Bedouin name: ratam Status: Not at risk Called ‘juniper’ in the Bible, this unmistakeable tree has green (photosynthetic) thin grooved branches, apparently no leaves (they rapidly drop off after being produced), and produces white flowers in February coming straight off the stems. Retem is a very common plant of the lower elevation wadis of South Sinai. In former times it was much in demand for producing the best quality charcoal from the thick roots. It is highly toxic. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Wadi Isla)

Tamarisk (Tamarix spp) Bedouin name: tarfa Status: Not at risk A graceful tree with long feathery branches clad in minute leaves, and in spring with spikes of beautiful pink blossoms like catkins. It is very common in Sinai wadis, and can almost form dense thickets in some places (e.g. Tarfa, named after it, on the road from Feiran to St Katherine). In former times it was much used for firewood. (photo: wikimedia)

Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) Bedouin name: saru The cypress familiar to us around the Monastery, on Mt Sinai (basin of Elijah) and in other gardens is a cultivated erect form of the normally spreading wild tree; therefore every tree you can see has probably been planted. They have been cultivated for thousands of years in the Mediterranean, and were probably brought to Sinai by the monks to beautify their gardens. (photo: Zoltan Matrahazi 2009 Farsh Elijah)

Sinai Hawthorn (Crataegus x sinaica) Bedouin name: zacrur Status: Endangered A rare shrub or small tree, with spine-tipped twigs and 3-5-lobed leaves. Many ‘species’ of hawthorn are now known to be hybrids, and the Sinai Hawthorn is no exception, thought to be a cross between C.azarolus and C.monogyna. The root is very resistant to drought, and Bedouin gardeners take advantage of this by grafting onto it fruit trees such as pear, especially the variety known as shitwi. The photo is of C.azarolus. (photo: wikimedia)

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15. Orchard trees The Gebaliya Bedouin of the St Katherine area are unique among Bedouin in tending walled gardens containing fruit trees and vegetables. Probably this habit derived from the practices of the Byzantine monks who colonised the area in the 2nd-3rd centuries AD. Almond (Prunus dulcis) Bedouin name: loz A small tree with large spear-shaped leaves with serrate margins, pink flowers appearing in early spring well before the leaves unfold, and large green felty fruit. Almonds are the major produce from the orchards, but are not commercially sold and so much of the produce is not used. In former times the Gebaliya used to exchange their almonds for dates from Wadi Feiran; inserting an almond into the soft jamcei date and pressing them produces al shana, a favourite winter food. (photo: Mike James)

Apricot (Prunus armeniaca) Bedouin name: mishmish A small tree with ovate leaves with a rounded base and finely serrated margin, the white to pink flowers appearing in very early spring well before the leaves unfold. In the old days, the ripening of apricots in St Katherine in May was the signal for families to decamp with their flocks to their gardens in the high mountains. Dried apricots are a major produce of the gardens, but as with almonds, much is not used because there are no commercial outlets. (photo: Tim Hurst June 2005 Wadi Gebal)

Wild Fig (Ficus carica) Bedouin name: tiin beri A low tree often with knarled and tortuous branches, with large papery leaves with slightly toothed margins. The large ‘fruits’ are delicious, unlike the small sour ones of the other local fig, hamaaT (Ficus palmata). The Bedouin graft tiin trunks onto hamaaT rootstocks because of the latter’s high drought tolerance. Figs are pollinated by special symbiotic wasps whose grubs feed in the figs. The ‘fruit’ is actually an inside-out inflorescence, a group of flowers that project inwards into the interior rather than outwards, like normal plants. (photo: Tim Hurst June 2005 Wadi Gebal)

Pear (Pyrus communis) Bedouin name: shitwi A small tree with white flowers opening before the rounded simple leaves. Pears have been grown in Sinai orchards for many centuries, with a number of very old varieties. The trees are very resistant, even more so when grafted onto hawthorn rootstocks. (photo: Hilary Gilbert 2007 Wadi Gebal)

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16. Succulents Succulent plants are desert-adapted for water conservation, storing water in their stems and leaves. Often the leaves are either absent or very inconspicuous, an adaptation to reducing the rate of photosynthesis with its inevitable loss of water through transpiration. They are usually poisonous to defend their water stores. Soapwort (Anabasis articulata) Bedouin name: cajram Status: Not at risk A peculiar plant with segmented stems and apparently no leaves; very like Hammada elegans but internodes shorter and thicker, and the plant does not dry yellow. Very common outside the Ring Dyke, if the plant is picked and rubbed with water, a usable soap is produced. (photo: Zoltan Matrahazi 2009 Wadi Nogra)

Bean caper (Zygophyllum spp) Bedouin name: qarmal, jarmal Status: Not at risk Another strange plant that seems to be made of small sausage-shaped green balloons! Some species have edible flower buds used as a substitute for capers, but many are poisonous. Very common on the plain of El Qaa. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Wadi Isla)

Gymnocarpos decandrum Bedouin name: jard Status: Not at risk A woody shrub with small fleshy bulbous leaves. It is a favourite grazing plants of livestock, and is used as camel fodder, and so presumably is not chemically defended. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Wadi Isla)

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17. Poisonous plants Many Sinai plants are poisonous to their own herbivores, but some plants are particularly poisonous to humans, and should be avoided if possible. Sinai Milkweed (Gomphocarpus sinaicus) Bedouin name: Harjal Status: Not at risk Milkweeds have their centre of diversity in the New World, but one lineage colonised Africa: this is its most northerly representative. The milky latex contains high concentrations of heart poisons. Some insects have overcome this defence and use the chemical in their own defence: a bright yellow aphid, a bright red bug, and a weevil whose larva feeds on the seeds in the seed pods. (photo: Mike James)

Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala) Bedouin name: Harmal Status: Not at risk This plant has a strategy unusual among Sinai plants. In early summer the very dark green foliage grows rapidly from the rootstock, and it produces large white flowers, and then three-valved fruits. Having dispersed its seeds, the above-ground parts dry to dead straw stalks and the plant spends most of the year underground as a rootstock. Highly poisonous, with an alkaloid that has been used as a ‘truth drug’, the seeds are hallucinogenic; the plant is the source of the dye ‘Turkey Red’ used for carpets and tarbooshes, and also many medicinal drugs. (photo: Mike James)

Henbane (Hyoscyamus spp) Bedouin name: sakaraan Status: Not at risk There are six species in Sinai, the common ones being succulent perennials with white and purple flowers, with either smooth (H.muticus) or hairy (H.boveanus) stems and leaves. The plants often form large mats of fresh and dead dry plant material. They are highly toxic, and their poisons have been used to kill people and pests for centuries; the seeds can remain dormant for at least 100 years. (photo: Hilary Gilbert 2006 Abu Seila)

Wild melons (Citrullus colocynthis, Cucumis prophetarum) Bedouin name: HanDal, HanDlaan Status: Not at risk These are both prostrate plants that trail along the ground, with large and obvious round fruits, Cucumis (up to 4.5 cm diameter) smaller than Citrullus (6-12 cms). Despite appearances the fruit is very bitter to toxic. (photo: Francis Gilbert 1996 Wadi Isla)

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18.a Spiny plants Most desert plants are heavily defended in some way or another against herbivores. Spines are aimed at repelling vertebrate herbivores, whilst chemical poisons are usually aimed at invertebrates, particularly insects. Silla (Zilla spinosa) Bedouin name: silla Status: Not at risk A cushion plant normally without leaves, consisting of a ball of intricately branched stems; similar to Launaea spinosa, but has blue cruciferous rather than yellow composite flowers, and blue-green rather than green stems. One of the commonest of Sinai plants, growing very large where there is adequate and consistent water. A favoured plant for camel fodder. (photo: Zoltan Matrahazi 2009 Gebel Abbas Basha)

Fagonia (Fagonia spp) Bedouin name: woraqa, shkaca Status: Not at risk These are a set of small prostrate spiny herbs or shrubs, some compact and some more etiolate, with tri- and/or unifoliate leaves and beautiful purple flowers. They are extremely common in the wadis of South Sinai. They are used in traditional medicine to help to heal wounds. (photo: Mike James 2001 St Katherine)

Caper (Capparis spp) Bedouin name: laSaf Status: Not at risk Shrubs with spines and simple alternate leaves, in Sinai either green elongate leaves and large reddish fruits (C.sinaica) or with grey round leaves covered with fine whitish down, and small green fruits (C.spinosa). These shrubs grow on the rocky sides of wadis in the most inaccessible places. The large white flowers last only half a day, but attract many insect visitors including rare bees. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2005 Wadi Arbaein)

Thistle (Onopordum alexandrinum) Bedouin name: kacuub Status: Vulnerable A typical large thistle up to 1.2 m high, with large solitary purple flowerheads and very spiny stems and leaves. Frequent in Bedouin gardens, the large flowerhead is a resource for a set of specialist insect herbivores. (photo: Fred Manata June 2005 Wadi Arbaein)

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18.b Spiny plants Many spiny plants belong to the family Asteraceae (=Compositae), particularly well represented in the South Sinai mountains and wadis. Knapweed (Centaurea spp) Bedouin name: merur, leHya, ghibaari Status: Many species are rare Typical knapweeds but with the flowerheads but not the rest of the plant armoured with spines of various lengths in the different species. The flowerheads are a beautiful pinky red with yellow pollen. After the flowers are finished and the seeds dispersed, the bleached opened-out bracts remain with their spines. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2005 Wadi Ahmar)

Spiny Globe Thistle (Echinops spinosus) Bedouin name: khosheer, asharah Status: Not at risk A thistle where the flowerhead is spherical and spiny, with bluish-white flowers; when the flowers have finished, the spiny head remains. The plant grows in rock crevices and precipitous slopes, and is one of the most characteristic plants of the rocky high mountains. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2005 Wadi Gebal)

Spiny Milkvetch (Astragalus spinosus) Bedouin name: jadas Status: Not at risk This is a small spiny dwarf shrub with ‘wool’ in between the spines; the flowers are almost hidden within the ‘wool’, and inflate to form the fruit. It is used in traditional medicine to treat kidney pain and asthma. (photo: Gordon Wilkinson St Katherine)

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19. Very hairy herbs with yellow flowers Defensive sticky or irritant hairs form another way in which plants defend themselves against herbivores. Sticky hairs are aimed at insects, whereas irritant hairs are probably anti-mammal defences. Yellow Alkanet (Alkanna orientalis) Bedouin name: loubayd Status: Vulnerable An easily recognasible plant with its yellow trumpet-like flowers and excessively sticky glandular hairs covering the entire plant. It is a high-mountain plant, fading away almost immediately one leaves the Ring Dyke in South Sinai, with a fairly restricted distribution elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean and other mountain-top outposts. It is an important nectar source for native bees. (photo: Mike James)

Sinai Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis aurea) Bedouin name: cawarwar Status: Vulnerable A large plant with large distinct whorls of yellow flowers, it is a Sinai endemic, occurring nowhere else in the world (except that now one can buy it as a garden plant!). It is restricted to the high mountains only, but there it is a very common plant in rocky gullies. The stems and leaves are covered in thick golden woolly hair, but they are irritant hairs especially painful if they get in the eyes. (photo: Mike James 2001 Safsafa)

Sinai Mullein (Verbascum sinaiticum) Bedouin name: kherma, widaan el Homar Status: Vulnerable Charasteristic tall spike of yellow flowers rising up to 2 m from a basal rosette. There are six species of mullein in Sinai, four of them rare near-endemics with small world distributions. The Sinai Mullein is the tallest, but despite its name it is widely distributed from East Africa to Pakistan. It is a biennial, remaining a rosette for more than one year before throwing up the flowering spike in its second year. (photo: Mike James 2001 Wadi Gebal)

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20. Strongly scented herbs with white flowers The scent of aromatic herbs fills the air of the wadis in South Sinai, contributing to the feeling of the sanctity of the area. The scents are actually chemical defences of the plants, usually against insect herbivores, but often have medicinal value for humans as well. We have organised these plants by the colour of their flowers. Sinai Thyme (Thymus decussatus) Bedouin name: zacataraan Status: Endangered A cushion plant that can exceptionally reach a metre across, covered in white tubular zygomorphic flowers. This is a rare near-endemic, occurring only in the St Katherine area above 1800 m altitude, and neighbouring high-mountain areas of the Hejaz in NW Saudi Arabia. It is the foodplant of the endemic Sinai Baton Blue butterfly. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Safsafa)

Oregano (Origanum syriacum) Bedouin name: zacatar Status: Not at risk With its mass of small white flowers and distinctive scent, oregano can be found in many of the high-mountain wadis of South Sinai. Called ‘hyssop’ in the Bible, it is used fresh in foods of many kinds. (photo: Mike James 2001 Wadi Gebal)

Felty Germander (Teucrium polium) Bedouin name: jacada Status: Not at risk A dwarf woody-based perennial with leaves and stems covered with woolly hair, the inflorescence forms a tight flowerhead of white flowers with prominent yellow anthers. It is very variable in its morphology, perhaps varying with altitude or with water availability. A specialised bug Copium teucrii makes galls in the flowerheads. (photo: Francis Gilbert)

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21. Strongly scented herbs with blue flowers Many medicinal plants belong to the family Lamiaceae (=Labiatae): here are three of them with blue flowers. Horsemint (Mentha longifolia) Bedouin name: habak, habag Status: Not at risk This mint has characteristic long spikes of tiny blue flowers, and is an indicator of water. It grows wherever water is abundantly available either near or at the surface of the ground. It can substitute for spearmint or ordinary mint in tea. (photo: Gordon Wilkinson St Katherine)

Desert Lavender (Lavandula coronopifolia) Bedouin name: zeita Status: Not at risk A perennial woody at the base, with leaves divided into thin multiple ‘branches’ (2-3 pinnatisect) and many almost-smooth stems with spikes of beautiful pale-blue zygomorphic flowers. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Wadi Isla)

Sinai Catmint (Nepeta septemcrenata) Bedouin name: ghameeSa Status: Vulnerable A perennial woody at the base, with cordate leaves with crenate edges; many stems with flowering spikes of deep-blue narrow tubular zygomorphic flowers. With a distribution only in the high mountains of Sinai and NW Saudi Arabia, this is a rare near-endemic plant. It is pollinated by solitary bees. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Safsafa)

Sinai Sage (Salvia multicaulis) Bedouin name: mardaghosh, bardagosh Status: Endangered Sages have whorls of flowers up a flowering spike, and are of course well known for their use in flavouring food. This species has purple flowers set in a large green calyx, and is a rare component of the flora of the mountains of Sinai north to Turkey. The Bedouin make a delicious herb tea with sage as the main component. (photo: Gordon Wilkinson St Katherine)

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22. Strongly scented herbs with yellow flowers Here are a set of very characteristic aromatic herbs of Sinai, all of which belong to the family Asteraceae (=Compositae). Fragrant Milfoil (Achillea fragrantissima) Bedouin name: gaySuum, qaySuum Status: Not at risk This is a low shrub with woody older stems; the stems are white-woolly with hairs, the leaves oblong with an undulate margin; there are clusters of small yellow flowerheads, and the flowers lack ray-florets. The name gives away its intensely fragrant nature. It is a southern Middle East speciality, but is extremely common in Sinai and hence not at risk. (photo: Mike James 2001 Wadi Gebal)

Undulate Fleabane (Pulicaria undulata) Bedouin name: dithdath Status: Not at risk Superficially like Tanacetum and Achillea, the oblong leaves with undulate margins have no petioles, and clasp the stem closely; young leaves are white-woolly, while older ones are smooth and green; the yellow flowers are solitary, with small ray florets. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Wadi Arbaein)

Sinai Tansy (Tanacetum sinaicum) Bedouin name: mir Status: Vulnerable Resembling Pulicaria and Achillea, the highly dissected feather-like leaves are very different; there are 3-6 solitary yellow flowerheads on long stems coming from each main stem. This highly aromatic plant is restricted to Sinai, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Wadi Arbaein)

Wormwood (Artemisia judaica, Seraphidium herba-alba) Bedouin name: shiH Status: Not at risk There are two abundant species with dissected leaves that used to be classified as Artemisia, one of which has white-woolly stems and leaves, much thinner leaves and is now separated into the genus Seraphidium. Both are wind- rather than insect-pollinated, and hence they have reduced flowerheads (<3mm) with very prominent anthers so that the pollen can catch the wind. Both are strongly aromatic medicinal plants. The Bedouin make a tea from the stems and leaves, and inhale the vapour to relieve headcolds. White cotton-like balls on the plants are insect galls that the Bedouin use as tinder to start fires. (photo: Gordon Wilkinson St Katherine)

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23. Miscellany This is a miscellaneous set of plants, all common in the high mountains, with woundwort having a rather wider distribution than the other two. Egyptian Woundwort (Stachys aegyptiaca) Bedouin name: gorTom, qorTom Status: Vulnerable Like all its relatives, Stachys has a square stem covered in thin woolly hair; it has a flowering spike of pale pink and white zygomorphic flowers. It is very common in many of the mountain wadis. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Wadi Arbaein)

Sinai Plantain (Plantago sinaica) Bedouin name: Heweit elbadan Status: Endangered This is the only woody species of its genus in Egypt, and it is a Sinai endemic, found nowhere else in the world. It is very common in Wadi Gebal, but hardly seen anywhere below 1800 m. (photo: Francis Gilbert 2004 Wadi Gebal)

Sinai Spurge (Euphorbia sanctae-catharinae) Bedouin name: wideina Status: Endangered This is a member of a large genus of 41 species in Egypt, with very varied forms¸but all exuding a milky latex when damaged and with a characteristic inflorescence called a cyathium, consisting of a single female flower surrounded by several male flowers. This endemic high-mountain species is more or less prostrate, woody, with hairless fleshy leaves with a grey-green waxy bloom on them. It is common in Wadi Gebal, but not elsewhere.