Desert Canyon, Arava, Israel.

Deserts - Part 3

Finally, here comes a desert canyon. Canyons are usually the best places to see wildlife, especially if they are long, narrow, remote and have some water sources inside. Canyons connecting Negev and Judean deserts with Arava Rift are good examples - here you can find leopards, ibexes, rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis), and other interesting animals. Most large ungulates, however, tend to avoid canyons, where it is so easy for predators to stalk them, and prefer open plains.

African wild ass (Equus asinus) inhabits some of the most inhospitable parts of the world's deserts - dry bottoms of rift valleys around the Red Sea. Unfortunately, it is now almost extinct. ass
African wild ass,
Arava, Israel.
Ibex (Capra nubica),
Nahal David, Israel.
Ibex (Capra nubica),
Nahal David, Israel.
Arabian oryx, Arava, Israel
Hai Bar nature preserve in Arava Rift, Israel, is the last place in Asia where this beautiful animal can be seen, together with slightly less rare Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) and addax (Addax nasomaculatus). A more colorful species of oryx is still common in parts of Africa. addax
Addax, Arava, Israel.
Family of beisa oryxes (Oryx dammah beisa), Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Kenya.
Ostrich, Tsavo West National Park, Kenya.
Deserts and dry savannas of Africa are generally the best ones to see large animals, including the world's largest terrestrial mammal - African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and largest bird - ostrich (Sturthio camelus). There are also interesting small animals and plants, but most visitors don't notice them. bird
Ostrich, Tsavo West National Park, Kenya.
Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri), Samburu
National Reserve, Kenya.
gazelle gazelle
Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri), Samburu
National Reserve, Kenya.
Of many small African antelopes, gerenuks (a.k.a giraffe gazelles) are my personal favorites. They live in arid areas of East Africa, from Tanzania to Somalia and Ethiopia.
Adenium obesum - a weird plant growing on
lava flows. Lake Natron, Tanzania.
Thompson's gazelle (Gazella thompsoni),
Marsabit National Park, Kenya.
Lioness (Panthera leo) sunbathing under giant
milkweed trees (Euphorbia), Samburu.
Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori), Tsavo West.
Africa has 19 of 25 world's bustard species. Unlike in Eurasia, here they are often common and easy to see. bird
Kori is the world's largest bustard.
bird bird
White-bellied (Eupodotis senegalensis, center) and buff-crested (Lophotis gindiana) bustards, Tsavo West.
Saltfall, Hoja-Muimin,
Among the strange habitats existing in the deserts, some of the most spectacular are created by salt. Salt mountains occur in many areas, such as in Iran and Kazakhstan. Hoja-Muimin in Tajikistan is not the highest one, but it is famous for strange formations, beautiful caves and unusual flora. Salt plains are usually the most lifeless places in the deserts - very few plants and animals can survive there. But salt lakes can produce as much biomass as some forests. Food chains are usually very simple here, with only 3-10 species of algae and invertebrates. hoja-muimin
Salt glacier,
Lesser flamingos (Phoenicopterus minor), Lake Natron, Tanzania.
Three species of flamingo (Ph.
andinus, Ph. chilensis, Ph. jamesi
Lagunas Coloradas, Bolivia.
Many birds breed at salt lakes, but flamingos seem to be most dependent on them. They breed on salt lakes in Atacama Desert at 5000 m (17,000') above sea level, and in some of the hottest places on Earth in the rift valleys of Africa. Lakes provide them with enough food to survive bitter frost and ferocious winds year-round. flamingos
Tiny salt puddle in Death Valley,
California - the only habitat of
Assiminea insima,a small snail.
Salt, Uvsu-Noor
Lake, Tuva.
Salt, Salton Sea, California.
Salt, Willcox Playas, New Mexico.
Salt of desert lakes can be beautiful by itself - you can find all colors and strange shapes.
Salt, Lake Elton,
Devil's Hole, Nevada.
Desert lakes and springs often shelter the most unexpected desert dwellers - fishes. North American deserts are known for relict populations of tiny fishes, sometimes endemic to just one hot spring or tiny salty pool. Devil's Hole, an opening of a flooded cave, is the only place on Earth where pupfish Cyprinodon diabolis occurs. These 1' (25 mm) fishes, similar to another pupfish pictured below, live only in shallow water above a granite ledge, 2 sq.m (20 sq. feet) in size - the smallest natural range known for any vertebrate animal! There are 400-500 fishes in the Hole. Unfortunately, some other desert species are much less numerous.
fish fish fish
Desert fishes of Nevada, left to right: spinedace Lepidomeda albivallis, springfish Crenichthys bailei, both- Crystal Spring; pupfish Cyprinodon nevadensis, Ash Meadows; springfish C. nevadae, Railroad Valley; spinedace L. altivelis, White River.
Endemic fish, Quatro Cienegas.
A nice place to snorkel in the desert is around the town of Quartro Cienegas in Coahuila, Mexico. fish
Endemic fish, Quatro Cienegas.
One of many springs at Quatro Cienegas, Mexico.
This area has spring pools connected with fast-flowing channels, seven endemic fish species, and stromatolytes - giant colonies of cyanobacteria, one of the most ancient life forms on the planet. view
Stromatolytes, Quatro Cienegas.
fish fish fish
Fishes of Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico: Pecos pupfish (C. pecosensis) and Pecos gambusia (Gambusia nobilis). The central photo shows two pupfishes in a courtship dance.
Not all desert fishes are tiny. Some, like chui-ui (Chasmistes cujus) from Pyramid Lake, can be quite large and support a commercial fishery. But all lead precarious existence in extremely sensitive habitat. Its alteration, be that draining water for irrigation, cattle grazing on shores, or introducing non-native fishes, can lead to their immediate extinction. Many desert fishes on all continents are already extinct, and many more are endangered. Snails, beetles and other aquatic creatures of the deserts have also suffered heavy losses. fish
Chui-ui, Pyramid Lake,
Catostomus commersoni, Nevada.
Former Aral Sea shoreline, Muinak, Karakalpakia.
Even fauna of large lakes and rivers is not safe. Of the two Asian inland seas, the Caspian have been severely affected by overfishing and pollution. Its splendidly diverse sturgeon fauna is now on verge of total collapse. The fate of smaller Aral Sea is even worse. Two rivers, its only source of fresh water, have been drained for irrigation almost completely, and the shrinking sea turned into a system of highly saline lakes and swamps.
Pseudoscaphorhynchus dybowskii, Tajikistan.
Of the tree most unique Aral fishes, the shovelnose sturgeons, one is now extinct, and two survive in vanishingly low numbers in upper Amudarja river. fish
P. paradoxus, Uzbekistan.
Lungfishes are the most ancient fishes of the desert. Their amazing adaptations allow them to survive complete drying of lakes they live in, by hiding in cocoons built deep into mud, and breathing air. fish
Lepidosiren paradoxa, Chaco, Argentina.
White Sands,
New Mexico.
Yellow Sands,
Red Sands,
Like salt lakes, actively moving sand dunes have little wildlife, except for small creatures usually found nowhere else. But they also can be an interesting to see.

Black legless lizard (Anniella pulchra nigra), Sand City, California.
Sunset at Sierra del Carmen, Coahuila.
Desert mountains are particularly interesting. They are often teeming with wildlife, especially if they are tall enough to get more precipitation than surrounding plains. Each such mountain is like an isolated island in the sky, and it is not unusual to find endemic plants and animals on mountain tops. Surrounding plains are usually more interesting than those far from mountains, because water runoff creates sources of water in the desert below. Even tiny mountains or rocky hills provide endless variety of microhabitats for large and small animals, from wild sheep to protozoans. jay
Mexican jay (Aphelocoma
), Santa
Rita Mts, Arizona.
view view view
Rock formations in Chiricahua Mountains, one of Arizona's most interesting "sky islands".
Mount Graham, Arizona.
Mountains of Sonora Desert in southern Arizona are so high that some of their summits are covered with fir forests. They are among the most interesting wildlife habitats in North America. Mountains of Baja California are also classic "sky islands".
Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Flower-covered or barren, in spring or in winter, at sunset or in the moonlight, deserts are always beautiful. There are even beautiful fall colors in some deserts, although few people ever notice them. And they are all different, so there is enough for you to watch during your entire life. lake
Bottomless lakes, New Mexico.

Winter at Mono Lake, California.

Back to Part 2