GebelUweinat06

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Gebel Uweinat and Gilf Kebir
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Gebel Uweinat is a sandstone and granite massif lying on the southwest corner of Egypt. At 1907m, it represents the highest point of the Western Desert and covers an area of 1500km�. Rainfall is extremely sparse and unpredictable here, occurring only about once every ten years, however, when rain does fall it fills rock basins that are found in the narrow winding gorges that seam the massif. The only vegetation that occurs in the Egyptian section of this mountain is found in Karkur Talh.
����� The sandstone plateau of Gilf Kebir lies to the north of Gebel Uweinat and is much larger in area. Its rocky surface, which slopes southeastward from 1000m to 600m, is partially covered by sand sheets. The Great Sand Sea to the north is gradually encroaching on this plateau and the slowly moving dune systems are already creeping into the wadis and up the rocky slopes. The plateau is dissected by wadis of which the most prominent are Wadi Talh, Wadi Abd El Malik and Wadi Hamra, so called because the sand there is red (�Hamra� [ahmar] means �red� in Arabic).
����� Owing to the extreme aridity of the area plants and animals are scarce although the extensive rock art in the wadis of Gebel Uweinat and, to a lesser extent Gilf Kebir, attest to an earlier, wetter period with ostriches, giraffe, gazelle and many cattle.
����� Despite the extreme nature of the climate, some wadis do support trees of Acacia tortilis raddiana and Maerua crassifolia. In some of the larger wadis Zilla spinosa grows and flowers when conditions allow, together with a few of the hardier species of grasses such asPanicum turgidum. The Bitter or Desert Melon, Citrullus colocynthis, is also found in this zone. On the very rare occasions when there is a little rain the area briefly becomes green as opportunist plants burst forth, set seed and die within the space of time it takes for the damp sand to dry out again. Gebel Uweinat is said to boast a flora of at least 55 species.
����� Little is known of the reptiles of this region but at least one species, the Egyptian Gecko, Tarentola annularis, is found here together with its insect food. It is always a surprise to people unfamiliar with the desert that in the most arid and apparently lifeless areas, nighttime brings out thousands of insects. Insectivorous birds such as the White-crowned Black Wheatear, Oenanthe leucopyga, do well in this zone. Other small birds have been reported from these desolate areas, including the Desert Lark, Ammomanes deserti, and, rather surprisingly, the House Bunting, Emberiza striolata, which is mainly a seedeater but will also eat insects.
����� The leaves and fruits of the plants provide food for a small population of the highly endangered Barbary Sheep, Ammotragus lervia. Although these hardy animals survive on the moisture they get from their plant food, they do drink when water is available. There are many thousands of rock paintings and engravings in the Sahara and Libyan deserts and many are to be seen at Gebel Uweinat in the wadi known as Karkur Talh where over 4,000 have been found. A high proportion of the drawings depict various sorts of cattle. The Goran tribesmen who lived here in the 1920s believed that the artwork was done by Djinns in olden days.
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Woody Caper, Maerua crassifolia
This interesting and drought resistant plant can grow as a small shrub or as a tree. The wood is extremely hard, often with spines or tubercles; the attractive large white flowers are clusters of long stamens growing a few together on twigs. It has small dark-green leaves and is sometimes heavily grazed, providing food for desert herbivores.