Located in the heart of western Asia, Iraq is an arid country dominated by desert and mountainous terrain. Covering an area of 168,754-square-miles, it is a vast nation with varied topography and diverse wildlife. There are 78 known mammal species in Iraq, as well as over 3,000 species of plant, ten-percent of which are endemic. Due to conflict, development and exploitation many of the plant and animals species of Iraq are rare and endangered.
The dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas) is a small gazelle common in Iraq. It stands a mere 25-inches at the withers and is less than four-feet in length with a mature weight of 55-pounds. Males and females of the species have pale tawny coats with white bellies, dark facial stripes and black tails, as well as gracefully curved horns. Supremely adapted to desert environments, dorcas gazelles do not need to drink water, instead relying on their food for moisture.
Desert Horned Viper
Named for two horn-like scales above each eye, the desert horned viper (Cerastes cerastes) is a venomous snake native to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq. At a maximum length of less than three feet, desert horned vipers are not large snakes, although they are powerfully built. Their skin is highly textured with blotchy patches of yellow, tan and pale gray color variations that match the desert sand in which they live. Despite being greatly feared, their venom is not as toxic as other viper species although their bite is quite painful.
Sometimes called the Asiatic wild ass, onagers (Equus hemionus) are extremely rare in Iraq due to habitat destruction and poaching. They spend the summer in mountainous areas with grass and other forage, moving to lower ground in winter. As social animals, onagers live in groups of up to 14 females and young with a dominant male leading the herd. The small family groups congregate in autumn to migrate, sometimes creating herds of over 200 animals. They are slightly larger than domestic donkeys, typically seven-feet long and weighing 650-pounds on average. Onagers have a reddish-brown coat with a dark dorsal stripe along their back.
Sometimes called turpentine tree, terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus) is a small deciduous tree reaching 30-feet in height. They have small, glossy oval-shaped leaves and reddish-purple flowers in early spring. All parts of the tree have a strong resinous scent and are used as a source of turpentine, which is a common and useful solvent. It occurs in semi-desertous areas of Iraq and in cultivation.
Prickly acacia (Acacia nilotica) is a small tree common throughout Iraq. It grows to 30-feet in height with dark, fissured bark and abundant, feather-like leaves that create a sphere-shaped crown of foliage. In summer, prickly acacia bears heads of yellow pompom-like flowers that are fragrant. The tree is widely utilized for medicine, fodder and lumber. It is an invasive species that is notorious for monopolizing water resources wherever it grows.
Found in cool mountainous areas of Iraq, Palestine sage (Salvia palaestina) is a perennial flowering plant found at least 1000-feet above sea-level. It has a candelabra-like shape with pale-green leaves covered in fine fuzz. In late spring, it bears showy, tubular flowers that range in color from periwinkle to pale lilac and white. All parts of the plant are fragrant and used in traditional medicine.