The Sahara Desert is one of the hottest places in the world. It is also the 2nd largest amongst other deserts in the world. Despite these conditions, Sahara has an ecosystem that plays host to a number of plant types and animal species that can live and sustain under its harsh climates.
The Sahara is the world’s largest desert, covering areas from Mauritania, Western Sahara, Algeria, Niger and Egypt. It also covers parts of Sudan, Libya, Chad and Mali; plus, a part of Morocco and Tunisia. The name „Sahara“ comes from the Tuareg (a local tribe) language „tenere,“ meaning „desert.“
Despite the seasonal rainfall, Sahara remains to be very dry. Rivers run through the region but only the Nile and Niger Rivers are permanent. The rest are created by the occasional rains and becomes dry when the weather changes. Oases can be found in a few areas where there are underground aquifers.
Thousands of years ago, based on the petroglyphs found on rocks and artifacts in the area, Sahara had more humidity and life than it does now. At present, Sahara is getting bigger in coverage. It is said that Sahara is expanding by as much as 30 miles per year.
Global warming and farming are the reasons behind this phenomenon. Despite this condition, some species of plants and animals have learned to adapt to the harsh environment.
The Saharan Fauna
Sahara’s most domesticated animals are goats and dromedary camels. Due to their endurance and speed, dromedary camels are the favorite animals of nomads.
The „deathstalker“ scorpion (Leirurus quinquestriatus) is also one of the living organisms that survive in the desert. Its venom is very dangerous but rarely kills a healthy adult.
Monitor lizards, sand vipers, fennec fox, hyrax and the ostrich, a flightless bird which have become rare, can still be found in the region. The addax, a large white antelope that has become a type of endangered species can also be found here. In fact, the Addax has fully adapted to the conditions of the desert and it can remain there for months, even a whole year, without drinking.
The Saharan cheetahs are very cautious animals that flee from human presence, with only a few hundred remaining on its population.
Birds that can be seen flying the Saharan skies are the black-throated firefinch and the African silverbill among other species. Bird species count more than 300 already.
Other animal lives in the Sahara include wild gazelles, antelopes, jackals, foxes, badgers and the hyena gerbil as well as the jerboa, cape hare, desert hedgehog, barbary sheep and the onyx. You will also find here some deer, wild ass, baboon, sand fox, weasel and mongoose.
The desert eagle owls, large brown and white birds called Houbara bustards camouflage themselves under the sand and boulders while searching for rodents and lizards.
Addax and oryx antelopes are among the most threatened species of all desert wildlife because of animal hunting.
One noteworthy species in the eco-region is the scarab beetle. It is believed in the ancient Egyptian mythology that these insects are associated with new life and rebirth. Scarab beetles thrive in the Sahara desert up to this day.
Many desert animals search for food at night because of the cooler temperature. It is more convenient for them to hunt without the glaring heat of the desert sun.
Considering the vast coverage of the region, flora species of the central Sahara Desert is estimated to include only more or less than 500 species. Most of these belong to the xerophytes and ephemeral plants (locally called Acheb), with halophytes in wetter areas.
A variety of succulents, lichens and shrubs can be found along Mauritania and the Western Sahara. They are sustained by the moisture generated areas of the Atlantic Coast. Other vegetation includes scattered patches of grasses, shrubs and trees which are mostly found in the highlands, also in the oases and near river beds. Some plant species have fully adjusted to the climate. It can even germinate within 3 days of rain and propagate seeds within 2 weeks afterwards.
Dates, corn and fruits also grow in the more or less 200,000 square kilometers of the Saharan fertile Oases. These few fertile regions are nourished by underground rivers and basins which can be found in depressions (areas under sea level) and artesian wells.
In general, aside from the already inhospitable environment of the desert, flora and fauna also feel the growing pressure of the times. The continuing climatic changes and human exploitation of the desert increases this pressure even more.