Ichkeul National Park
Ichkeul National Park
Natural Tunisia Arab States Bizerta District, 25 Km Southwest Of Bizerta

Garaet el Ichkeul National Park is situated on the Mateur plain and is approximately 30 km south-west of the Mediterranean coast.

In AD 1240 the dynasty of the Hafsids managed Djebel Ichkeul as a hunting reserve. The area was first realized to be of international importance in the late 1960s and early 1970s, leading to a major part of the Ichkeul marshes being ceded to the Direction des Fôrets in 1974 and was ratified as a National Park in 1980.

The park consists of an isolated and wooded massif, Djebel Ichkeul and a brackish permanent lake, Lac Ichkeul, the area of which varies with season. The lake is indirectly connected to the sea by the river, Oued Tindja, which leads into the marine lagoon, Lac de Bizerte. In the summer, the reduced level of incoming freshwater, in combination with high levels of evaporation, result in an overall drop in the level of the lake. There is also an increase in the concentration of salinity due to the influx of sea water. The waters in Ichkeul reach greatest salinity from July to October;there is a replenishment of fresh-water with the first autumnal rains.

Djebel Ichkeul is composed of Triassic and Jurassic formations, largely as metamorphosed limestone with pseudo-dolomitic marbles. Triassic limestone and other sedimentary deposits are exposed in the quarries on the south-western slopes of the Djebel. The endorheic (closed) basin of the lake and also the marshes are composed of Quaternary alluvia.

The park has a typical semi-arid ecosystem dominated by Mediterranean plant species. Distinct habitat types within the park include the mountain and its foothills, dominated by a lentisc with wild olive, phillyrea and Smilax aspera . There is a rich variety of northern Tunisian plant species. The vegetation of the marshes is zoned. The lake is fringed by a narrow belt of reeds while further inland the area is dominated by Scirpus maritimus , S. lacustris and Juncus .

The Ichkeul wetland is the most productive wetland for waterfowl in North Africa and one of the most important sites in the entire Mediterranean region for wintering Palaearctic species, with past records of up to 300,000-400,000 birds present at one time. 226 species of birds including 34 breeding residents were recorded in 1986. The most numerous species are wigeon (39,000: 112,000 in the 1970s), common pochard (120,000 in 1971) and coot (36,000: 188,000 in 1973). High records for common pochard and greylag goose (3,200: 18,000 in the 1970s) show that Ichkeul is their most important wintering site in north-west Africa. 600 (4% of known world population) of the threatened white-headed duck Oxyura leucocephala , were seen in 1977. Other wintering wetland birds include the threatened marbled teal Marmoronetta angustirostris , ferruginous duck and corncrake;also high numbers of green-winged teal, northern pintail, northern shoveler and black-winged stilt. Flamingoes summer on the lake.

Ichkeul is recognized as being extremely diverse largely due to the wide variety of habitats. One of the most notable of the mammals recorded at Ichkeul is the otter, which has been hunted for its meat. Less than 10 animals were believed to exist at the time of a 1987 survey. Of the larger mammals there are large populations of wild boar and introduced wild water buffalo;also a number of crested porcupine, jackal, genet, Egyptian mongoose, wild cat and four species of bat.

Reptiles and amphibians vary with water level and salinity. The marsh frog is common in the marshes. There are also painted frog, three species of toad, two harmless species of snake and one lacertid. Two pond turtles, Iberian Clemys leprosa and European Emys orbicularis , are found in the lake.

The lake and marshes, especially the dense Potamogeton beds, support huge populations of a few species of marine and brackish water invertebrates. Species include Nereis diversicolor , Gammarus locusta , Corophium volutator , Sphaeroma hookeri , Idotea spp., Hydrobia spp., Abra spp. and Cerastoderma glaucum . Freshwater invertebrate species also occur on the edge of the saltmarsh. Shore crab Carcinus mediterraneus and Balanus amphitrite occur near the Tindja canal.

The site also has internationally important fossil deposits, including late Tertiary and early Quaternary outcrops on the northern shore. The Pleistocene deposits include numerous unique assemblages of fossil mammal remains.