written by: Rafael•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 1/29/2013
The Sahara desert is a huge ecosystem characterized by dryness, hot temperatures and endangered species. Wild asses, antelopes and gazelles are some of the endangered species of the Sahara Desert.
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Editor's Note: This article was archived on January 29, 2013, as the content addresses species that were endangered at the time the article was originally written -- June 25, 2010.
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First we will look at exactly what the Sahara is and where it is located. Then, we will touch upon some of the fauna located in the desert. And finally, review the specific species that are listed as endangered per the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
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What is the Sahara Desert?
The Sahara desert is a big area of dry land that occupies almost 10% of the African continent. More specifically, the Sahara desert occupies 9.1 million square kilometers (the US has 9. 3 million square kilometers total - Alaska included).
The region is very hot, with an annual mean temperature of 30 Celsius degrees (86 F). However, temperatures of 50-55 Celsius degrees (122 F - 131 F) can be registered during the hottest days, while temperatures below 0 Celsius degrees can be found at night.
The desert has many surface configurations. There are vast regions of moving sand dunes, but there also stone plateaus (called hamadas), gravel plains (reg), dry valleys known as wadis, and salt flats. Water, although very scarce, may surge at places from underground aquifers forming oases in the middle of the desert.
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Fauna of the Sahara desert
According to the World Wide Fund (World Wildlife Fund), the fauna of the central Sahara is richer than is generally believed. They estimate that there are 70 species of mammal, 20 of which are large. There are 90 species of birds and 100 species of reptiles. These species have developed may adaptations to survive in this harsh environment. Among the animals found in the Sahara desert are camels, antelopes, gazelles, goats, ostriches, scorpions, snakes, lizards, and vipers.
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Endangered Species of the Sahara Desert
The following animals are endangered species according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened species (2010):
Addax nasomaculatus, known as the screwhorn antelope. The total population is estimated at less than 300 individuals across the range, with the majority of the population in the Termit/Tin Toumma region of Niger. The population continues to decline due to ongoing threats of hunting and habitat loss.
Gazella leptoceros, known as Slender-horned Gazelle. In 2007, total population was estimated at under 2,500 mature individuals and was declining. No individual subpopulation is estimated to number more than 250 mature individuals, although population data is very sparse.
Many other species of gazelles are endangered, among them the Dama Gazelle (Gazella dama), the Cuvier's Gazelle (Gazella cuvieri), the Acacia (Gazella gazella acaciae) and Muscat (Gazella gazella muscatensis), and the Saudi Gazelle (Gazella saudiya), which is now considered extinct in the wild by the IUCN.
The Equus Africanus (wild ass), is listed as critically endangered in the Red List. No subpopulation groups in excess of 50 mature individuals are found. Other ass species endangered are: the Asian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus), the Syrian race (Equus hemionus hemippus), also extinct in the wild. Zebras are similarly endangered. Among them are the Burchell's Zebra (Equus burchellii burchellii) and the Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi) of East Africa.
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The Sahara desert was not always as we know it today. Research has shown that the vast territory of the Sahara desert was once a fertile region for grasses and had many wild animals roaming through.
Ancient Egyptians and other Mid Eastern nations used the land to cultivate grains. Centuries of this intervention caused an irreversible process of desertification that transformed the once fertile region into an inhospitable land where the native fauna barely survive. Perhaps this is a lesson that we need to learn and apply in our modern times.
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Sahara desert, available at http://www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/pa/pa1327_full.html
Sahara Desert Animals, available at http://www.buzzle.com/articles/sahara-desert-animals.html
IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 16 June 2010.