Egypt is a land of contrasts. Just beyond the fertile Nile Valley is a burning desert. Towering above both can be found the mighty mountains of Sinai. The desert is parched, yet snow can be found on the mountains, and in between these extremes of heat and cold, the Nile Valley blooms and flourishes. Yet these three environments share one thing in common: an abundance of animal life. Snakes and scorpions call the desert areas home, while the weasel and the mongoose can be found darting under cars in the heart of the cities.
The Sand Cat is another mammal that is well-adapted to living in the desert. It has thick mats of fur on the bottom of its paws to protect them from the scorching sands. Sightings of the Sand Cat are rare. There have been less than five different sightings in the 1990's. Like many smaller desert animals, it does not have to drink water; it gets all of its moisture from its prey, which includes small rodents and the occasional snake. One would think that being a wild cat, they would tend to be larger, but they're not much bigger than a domestic house cat. In fact, the Sand Cat is believed by many to be among the ancestors of the domestic cat. After all, Egypt is where the cat is first thought to have been domesticated. We'll meet more Egyptian cats later.
And while we're on the subject of dangerous animals, here's another creature we'd all like to avoid: the scorpion. The tip of its tail delivers a powerful sting. The venom of most scorpions in Egypt is painful, but not deadly. However, the Palestinian Yellow Scorpion (thankfully rare) has a venom that is potentially lethal. All in all, while the word desert conjures up images of parched wastelands and devastating sandstorms, the desert areas of Egypt are filled with life. All of the animals in these deserts have evolved to fit the harsh conditions of living there. Many are omnivorous, which means they can eat both plant and animal. Many of them don't have to drink water, as they are able to live off of tiny amounts of water found in their food. Most desert animals are also nocturnal, that is they sleep during the day and are awake and about at night when it is cooler.
This set of photos will show some of the delightful and unique life found all over Egypt. Again, it would be impossible to show pictures of every single species in Egypt, but these pictures will give you some idea of the wealth of wildlife to be found in the Land of the Pharaohs.
Where shall we begin? Ah of course! With the camels! For thousands of years the camel has been the choice method of transportation throughout this part of the world, and for good reason. The camel can travel for weeks without food or water, living off the fat and body fluids stored in its hump (the hump also makes a very comfortable seat for the rider). There are two main types of camels. The "true" camel has two humps, while the dromedary has only one. Notice the odd shape to its nostrils. The camel can close them up to keep sand from getting in and minimize the loss of moisture to the heat.
Oh dear, I had hoped we wouldn't have to deal with more reptiles, but here they are. I suppose one can't have a desert without snakes. This is the extremely dangerous Saw-Scaled Viper. Like its distant cousins, the rattlesnakes, the Saw-Scaled Viper warns all around it of its coming. As it moves, the rough scales make a harsh rasping sound across the sand. When you hear this sound, it means to get away fast. Yet there are snakes in Egypt that are quite useful. The Sand Boa is one of them. It's a fairly small non-venomous snake, only a couple of feet long, but it proves quite deadly to the rodent population. For this reason, the Sand Boa is a protected species in Egypt, and hunting it is forbidden.
All right, I've had enough of snakes and scorpions. Let's end our look at the desert with something more attractive. These wide-eyed little furballs are fennecs, or desert foxes. They are found all over Egypt, but mostly in the desert areas, where they have evolved to fit life in the desert quite well. Their small bodies (the fennec is the smallest fox in the world, about the size of a very small dog) minimize the loss of body heat and water, while their large eyes and ears allow them to see and hear both predator and prey very easily. Fennecs are often kept as pets (not recommended for wild ones), and if they are born and raised in captivity, can be quite docile. They have proven to be very popular in America, and professional fennec breeders are becoming more common.