Ancient Egyptian Palm Trees Faces Extinction

Environmentalists have called for urgent action to save the last 400 argun palm trees, a rare desert palm tree highly valued by the ancient Egyptians

In the remote regions of Sudan and Egypt the argun palm tree- a rare desert tree whose fruit was discovered by archaeologists in Pharaoh tombs- grows under a harsh sun. Less than 400 trees is all that remains of the species which environmentalists say is now in critical danger of extinction. Although the desert palm tree has managed to survive the passage of time and outlive the Pharaohs, ecological experts say that human activity such as over-exploitation and climate change is putting the prized palm tree in serious danger.

Argun Palm Population Under Threat

According to a report by IPS News, the argun palm tree was first recorded by archaeologists who found its dried fruit amongst the gold and offerings recovered from the tombs of Pharaohs. However, it was assumed that the palm tree had died off with the Pharaohs until a German naturalist, Prince Paul Wilhelm von Wurttemburg stumbled across the species in the wilds of northern Sudan in 1837. Comprehensive surveys done over the last two decades recorded only 40 argun palms in Egypt and several hundred in northern Sudan.

In Egypt, desertification has taken it’s toll on the species whilst the palm trees in Sudan are at risk of over-exploitation by the local tribes who use the trees to make rope, mats and baskets. Professor of plant ecology Irina Springuel told IPS, “The argun palm survives, but its population is under heavy pressure. Unless protected, the species could disappear – and this time for good.” The argun palm tree is currently listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nation Red List of Threatened Species.

Growing Threat of Human Activity

Mahmoud Hasseb, director of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) of South Area Protectorates, told IPS that the growing level of human activity in regions where the argun grows in Egypt could also have a potentially devastating affect on the palm trees. Hasseb added that they were currently assessing the possibility of seeking protected status for the regions to limit the risk that a careless fire by a visitor or hunter would destroy the entire species. “For several years we’ve seen evidence of tourists and hunters visiting this area,” he told IPS. “When we visited in 2009, we collected the bones of dead gazelles and found dozens of palm trees had been burned. It became clear that this ecosystem was at risk.”

This report is one of many similar cases highlighting the danger of extinction for various species in the Middle East including: concerns about sharks in Kuwait and the Persian Gulf, as well as the dragon blood tree in the Socotra in Yemen. Whilst these may appear to demonstrate the dangerous situation much of flora and fauna face in the MENA region, these calls for urgent action also demonstrate an awareness of the seriousness of the situation and willingness to take action.

:: Image via Bracketing Life via flickr.

For more on species at risk in the Middle East see:

Kuwaiti Sharks, Ecosystems and Exxon

Biodiversity Under Threat At Yemeni ‘Alien Island’

25 Sharks Species In Persian Gulf Need Urgent Protection

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2 thoughts on “Ancient Egyptian Palm Trees Faces Extinction”

  1. Can’t the seeds be collected and propagated? Seems like introducing the species into regional horticulture and trade might save it the same as happened for the Wollemi Pine and quite a number of other plants. Why not involve the landscape and parks departments, and architects themselves to specify planting of young Argun Palms in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Cairo and elsewhere?

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