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Egypt’s fossilized forest given new lease on life

The Petrified Forest, 30 km from Cairo, has been given more protection after years of campaigning. (AN photo)
CAIRO: Environmentalists in Egypt have finally succeeded in putting a 30 million-year-old fossilized forest under special government protection.
The Petrified Forest — also known as Gabal Al-Khashab, or Hill of Wood is located outside Maadi district, 30 km from Cairo.
The area is a natural heritage site in a 7-km square area, which holds fossils, stems and trunks of trees that have been completely fossilized.
The forest was declared a protectorate in 1989. But for more than a decade, efforts led by environmentalists have failed to force the government to fully safeguard the site.
That was until a group of activists called “Narges Volunteers” managed to save it.
The group presented its vision for the forest two years ago and asked for support from the parliament and the forest administration to protect the area from neglect, looting, and dumping of garbage piles.
The first phase of the project for the forest was launched on Saturday at a cost of less than half a million US dollars, according to Minister of Environment Dr. Khaled Fahmy.
“When I came to learn about the treasures inside this forest, I decided to fight, with my neighbors, to protect it from looting. Our dream came true… it is now a destination for families”, said lead volunteer Noha Ezz.
More than a year ago, the government seized about one-third of the protected area, claiming it was no longer valuable — an act that enraged both residents and environmentalists.
The forest is not only holding petrified wood but also fossilized mammals, as well as plants, flowers and fruit from nearly every geological time period.
“This is the starting point, there is a long road ahead and we need to attract tourists, protect and develop the forest further,” said Dr. Ibrahim Hegazy, a member of parliament who has been leading volunteers in the transformation of the forest.
“This is a successful model of collaboration between residents, parliament and the government,” said Tamer Atef, one of the primary environmentalists of the project.
The Petrified Forest, which was once a branch of the Nile River, was formed over millions of years ago during the Oligocene era. Its rich geological heritage attracts tourists, scientists and students, and is home to rare plants, distinct reptiles, birds and animals such as the red fox.
Similar forests around the world — like the Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona, the US, or Curio Bay in New Zealand — receive hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

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