The 2020 Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum identified biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse among the top five risks facing humanity, due to the high dependency of health care systems on biodiversity, with four billion people relying on natural medicines and 70 percent of cancer drugs derived from natural products.
As a matter of fact, biodiversity is exposed to various threats, including pressure of population growth, poaching, clear-cutting, environmental degradation due to pollution, and climate change that affected temperature and precipitation rates, bringing about climatic conditions that many living creatures couldn’t tolerate and ended up dying.
During the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Brazil, 196 countries ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), aimed at promoting the sustainable use of natural resources, preserving biodiversity, and achieving the equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic sciences. In the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (which is the supreme governing body for any international environmental convention), there has been an international commitment to implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, otherwise known as the Aichi Targets, named after Japan’s Aichi prefecture. Goals of the Plan included reducing deforestation, addressing the underlying causes of loss of biodiversity, reducing pressures on biodiversity, and preserving ecosystems and genetic diversity.
In the 2020 Biodiversity Summit, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that the world loses 10 million hectares of forests every year while 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. Worse, vertebrates have decreased by 68 percent and over 60 percent of coral reefs are at risk due to poaching and the destructive practices adopted over the past 50 years.
Ecological Balance in Egypt
Over the past two centuries, many plants and animals were introduced to Egypt. These invasive species caused the Egyptian species to be neglected which resulted in the deterioration –or even the extinction– of genetic origins. Alternatively, new species, including, for instance, pesticides and Water hyacinth. In many respects, the human hand had reached all Egyptian environments (whether the agricultural, desert, mountain, or sea environments) particularly the deep-sea areas in the Mediterranean, causing an extensive deterioration in the ecosystems, habitats, and biodiversity. To address this, Egypt has been working on three parallel areas, i.e. biodiversity, afforestation and forestry, and natural reserves.
In ancient times, the idea of reserves was associated with religious practices where poaching in sacred areas was considered a taboo. Then, landowners began regulating poaching by setting aside specific areas for this activity. However, the idea of protecting animals with the aim of preserving them from extinction wasn’t known until the 19th century.
By definition, a natural reserve is a specific area of land or sea characterized by favorable natural conditions that help preserve natural resources in that area. Usually, this is done under state control in accordance with the laws in force and management plans regulating the sustainable use of those resources, where the state defines the types and scale of activities that can be carried out without causing damage to these resources either due to negligence or haphazardness, which contributes to protecting of wildlife and natural habitats toward avoiding extinction of some species, protecting genetic resources that may gradually disappear, and preserving a wide spectrum of genes that can be used in the future in hybridization or genetic modification for purposes of growing food and providing therapeutic sources the world may need.
Natural Reserves in Egypt
Figure 1: Map of natural reserves in Egypt (Source: Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, EEAA)
As the above map shows, Egypt has a total of 30 natural reserves, accounting for 15 percent of Egypt’s total area. The following table lists these natural reserves.
Table 1: Natural reserves in Egypt
Global Wildlife Monitoring
Several international organizations are already involved in monitoring and tracking wildlife worldwide, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is the official body in charge of monitoring global biodiversity, re-evaluating the category of every species every five to ten years, and publishing a red list of threatened species. Also, there is the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) of the WWF, a leading organization that monitors, protects, and restores species and their habitats. The WWF protects and restores threatened wildlife and wild places by applying the best available science working closely with local communities.
Domestically, several attempts have been made by various stakeholders to make an enumeration of threatened species within each category of the taxonomic groups, found inside and outside natural reserves since 1995 and until now. However, all of these attempts have not been added to the IUCN Red List for not aligning with the internationally recognized standards, except for a few old assessments that needed an update.
Red List of Threatened Species in Egypt
According to the IUCN data of 2016, the most endangered species in Egypt are identified as below.
Figure 2: Top Endangered Species in Egypt
Motivated by its belief in the right of future generations to natural resources, the Egyptian government has put in place regulations for protecting biodiversity in Egypt. Also, considerable efforts are being made for establishing natural reserves and integrating biodiversity concepts into sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Egypt’s efforts in this respect paid off. In the World Heritage Watch Report of 2020, the IUCN commended the competence and professionalism with which Wadi Al-Hitan [Whale Valley] was designed as an example of geological heritage sites in Egypt. Also, the Ministry of Environment’s Migratory Soaring Birds Project implemented in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) winning the Global Energy Award was indicative of the notable success of Egypt’s efforts. Furthermore, the government works on removing the obstacles that may impede these efforts, including lack of proper infrastructure, weak legislation and governing laws, shortage of manpower and financial resources allocated for monitoring and follow-up operations, the limited areas of natural reserves, and dependence of the local community on some economic activities damaging to the resources of natural reserves.