By Mohamed El-Hebeishy
IT IS UTTERLY unfair to compare Kenya with Egypt as far as wildlife is concerned. An Egyptian counterpart to the world renowned Masai Mara is virtually nonexistent. But is there wildlife of any sort in our country? Mohamed El-Hebeishy treks the Sahara in search of creatures fleeing and fleeting.
Up until the 1950s, the Dorcas gazelle was commonly found in herds in the hundreds. However, due to poaching and habitat degradation, not to mention four-wheel drives, their population in Egypt suffered a drastic decline. The Dorcas can be sighted in pairs, if found; and probably only after long days travelling to remote and off-limits localities. The last remaining specimens have learned the hard way to fear man; with the first sound of your car's engine they will flee for their lives. Better trade your 4X4 for the old fashioned desert transport -- camels. At least that's what I did to capture the photographed Dorcas gazelle.
The Dorcas gazelle is not the only misfortunate representative of the animal kingdom; the list includes other herbivores like the Addax. A famous spot in the Western Desert, where the last of the Addax has been shot, was named in its honour: Karet Al-Bagara (Karet means a hill-like place and Bagara means cow, in reference to the Addax) as a feeble attempt to pay due respect to this elegant creature. The Oryx, better known as Al-Maha, has completely vanished from our territories. If you are really keen on seeing this one, I would strongly advise you to either go to Oman or Dubai where the species still enjoys the safe haven of conservation reserves. Barbary sheep is reportedly still hanging in the balance in the remote plateau of Al-Gilf Al-Kebir. Luckily, in my visit to the area in 2005, I found a fresh carcass.
Moving to carnivores, the picture gets bleaker. Wolves have completely disappeared off mainland Egypt, confining themselves to the remote mountainous regions of the Sinai Peninsula. The famous cheetah of the Qattara Depression has been reduced to a historical anecdote, while the caracal, a long-eared wild cat locally known as Um Al-Rishat, is close to becoming locally extinct. If it is on your list of wish-to-see species, then head to Al-Mujib Reserve in nearby Jordan.
For the final blow, it is claimed that there are more Sinai leopards living in the Judean and Negev deserts than those found in Sinai itself. Only a handful remaining in the Israeli deserts, they have been radio-collared and monitored since 1979.
To add to the irony, all of the above mentioned species are listed on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and protected by Egyptian law. Yet the breaching continues. It seems that most people understand the importance of wildlife except those who profess they care.