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Flora and Fauna of the Sahara

The Sahara is the world’s largest desert, covering areas from Mauritania, Western Sahara, Algeria, Niger and Egypt. It also covers parts of Sudan, Libya, Chad and Mali. plus, a part of Morocco and Tunisia. The name “Sahara” comes from the Tuareg language (local tribe) “tenere”, which means “desert”.

Despite seasonal rainfall, the Sahara remains very dry. Rivers cross the region, but only the Nile and Niger rivers are permanent. The rest is created by occasional rains and dries up when the weather changes. Oases exist in a few areas where there are underground aquifers.

Thousands of years ago, based on petroglyphs found on rocks and artifacts in the area, the Sahara had more moisture and life than it does now. At present, the Sahara is becoming larger in coverage. The Sahara is said to be expanding up to 30 miles a year.

Global warming and agriculture are the reasons behind this phenomenon. Despite this situation, some species of plants and animals have learned to adapt to the harsh environment.

The fauna of the Sahara

The most domesticated animals of the Sahara are goats and dromedary camels. Because of their endurance and speed, camels are the favorite animals of nomads.

The ‘Deathstalker’ scorpion (Leirurus quinquestriatus) is also one of the living organisms that survives in the desert. Its venom is very dangerous but rarely kills a healthy adult.

Lizards, sand vipers, fox, hyrax and ostrich, a flightless bird that has become rare, still exist in the area. The addax, a large white antelope that has become an endangered species can also be found here. In fact, Addax has fully adapted to desert conditions and can stay there for months, even a whole year, without drinking.

Saharan cheetahs are very wary animals that shy away from human presence, with only a few hundred left in their population.

Birds that can be seen flying in the skies of the Sahara are the black-throated and the African silver-backed among other species. Bird species already number more than 300.

Other animal life in the Sahara includes wild gazelles, antelopes, jackals, foxes, badgers and hyena gerbil, as well as jerboa, cape hare, desert hedgehog, barbary sheep and onyx. Here you will also find deer, wild ass, baboon, sand fox, weasel and mongoose.

Desert owls, large brown and white birds called Houbara bustards camouflage themselves under sand and boulders while searching for rodents and lizards.

Addax and oryx antelopes are among the most endangered species of all desert wildlife due to livestock hunting.

A notable species in the ecoregion is the scarab. In ancient Egyptian mythology, these insects were believed to be associated with new life and rebirth. Scarab beetles thrive in the Sahara desert to this day.

Many desert animals forage at night because of the cooler temperatures. It is more convenient for them to hunt without the blazing heat of the desert sun.

Sahara Flora

Considering the vast coverage of the area, the flora species of the central Sahara desert are estimated to include only more or less than 500 species. Most of them belong to xerophytes and ephemeral plants (locally called Acheb), with halophytes in wetter areas.

A variety of succulents, lichens and shrubs can be found along Mauritania and the Western Sahara. They are sustained by the areas created by the humidity of the Atlantic coast. Other vegetation includes scattered patches of grasses, shrubs and trees found mainly in the highlands, also in oases and near riverbeds. Some plant species have completely adapted to the climate. It can even germinate within 3 days of rain and propagate the seeds within 2 weeks after that.

Dates, corn and fruit also grow in the 200,000 square kilometers of the fertile Sahara Oases. These few fertile areas are fed by underground rivers and basins that can be found in sinkholes (areas below sea level) and artesian wells.

Generally, apart from the already inhospitable desert environment, the flora and fauna are also feeling the increasing pressure of the times. Ongoing climate change and human exploitation of the desert further increase this pressure.

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