Neglected Egyptian nature reserve, home of the last pharaonic honeybees
The Wadi Al-Assiut Protectorate extends over 8,000 hectares and is home to a variety of rare plants, animals, and birds, making it a popular destination for nature lovers and scientists.
The sanctuary, about 50 km from the city of Assiut, is the breeding ground for endangered species of wild animals and wild plants, especially the last pharaoh bees, whose honey has a variety of therapeutic and nutritional benefits.
Wadi Al-Assiut is also home to various species of game, falcons and migratory birds. After the January 25 revolution, the protectorate was exposed to several unauthorized incidents and injuries, but “this nature reserve still reflects the beauty of Egypt’s eastern desert,” said Mahmoud Nafadi, director general of the reserve.
The rare Egyptian bee races of the Protectorate produce a special type of honey with great medicinal properties, which is studied by students of pharmacy and natural sciences. Nafadi claimed that these races have existed since the days of the Pharaohs.
“We pay a lot of attention to these bees,” said Nafadi with 200 beehives for them, made of wood or clay. “Our goal is to encourage our species of bees to multiply,” he said. “We planted 1,000 Ziziphus spina-christi trees, also known as the Christ thornjujube, so that the bees can eat them as natural pasture. We want to keep breeding our bees and make them available to beekeepers. “
“The reserve includes the apiaries of a rare Pharaonic bee breed,” Ali Ahmed Mursi, an environmental researcher in the sanctuary, told Al-Monitor. “The Protectorate has succeeded in increasing these bees through continuous breeding activities. Foreign scientific missions from all over the world come specifically to study this breed, whose honey is of great health benefit.”
He added: “The reserve was established primarily to protect plant and animal species, protect living natural resources, maintain healthy environmental processes in the ecosystem and preserve genetic biodiversity. This nature reserve is the only breeding ground for threatened wildlife and plant species in the Egyptian desert. “Studies on plant genetics from the reserve would be used for agriculture and genetic engineering.
Wildlife breeding in the reserve includes migratory birds from Asia and Europe as well as Egyptian deer, mountain goats, peregrine falcons, hyenas and red wolves, Nafadi told Al-Monitor. The reserve was officially declared a reserve in 1989 on the recommendation of a joint study by the University of Arizona and Assiut University.
Plant species in the reserve include several medicinal plants and herbs that are used to treat kidney stones, colds, coughs and asthma, Nafadi said. “A milkweed plant known as calotropis treats wounds, acne and skin infections,” he continued. “It is also used in the treatment of limb paralysis, scorpion stings and many other diseases. The roots of this plant are used in the treatment of filariasis. “
But Nafadi warned that the Protectorate is suffering from neglect. “Although it is one of the main international tourist attractions, the reserve is not getting the tourist attention it needs,” he said, and residents are violating the protected land. “Even after receiving reports of violations, they continue to cultivate and plant this land,” he said. “These incidents caused the migration of many rare animal species to the desert.”
He praised the efforts of the state, in coordination with the Ministry of Local Development and the Ministry of the Interior, to eliminate violations of the Protectorate.
Nafadi also noted that the only animal that has entered the reserve is a jackal named Ibn Awa, which is not predatory to humans. “The hyenas in the Protectorate are small and don’t go down into the valley,” he said.
As Assiut has a dry climate, many plants need watering and the reserve’s underground well is currently out of order. “I applied to the Ministry of the Environment for a new well and we conducted a study for that purpose,” said Nafadi. “The protected area is currently being watered by a truck loaded with water tanks.”