Located along Libya's southwestern tip bordering Algeria, the
Tadrart Acacus mountain massif is famous for thousands of cave
paintings and carvings going back up to 14,000 years.
The art, painted or carved on rocks sandwiched by spectacular
sand dunes, showcase the changing flora and fauna of the Sahara
stretching over thousands of years.
Highlights include a huge elephant carved on a rock face as well
as giraffes, cows and ostriches rendered in caves dating back to
an era when the region was not inhospitable desert.
But in a visit to Libya's remote far south, Reuters found many
paintings destroyed or damaged by graffiti sprayers or people
carving in their initials.
Tourist officials in Ghat, the nearest large town, said the
vandalism started around 2009 when a former Libyan employee of a
foreign tour company sprayed over several paintings in anger
after he had been fired.
But the destruction has accelerated since the 2011 civil war
which ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi and then plunged the
sprawling North African country into widespread armed anarchy.
With tourist and archaeologists staying away on safety grounds,
hunters have taken over the Acacus massif, shooting much of the
wildlife across the arid, rugged landscape.
Weapons are available anywhere these days in a country where the
central government based in Tripoli on the northern
Mediterranean coast exerts scant authority and the nascent armed
forces are no match for armed tribesmen and militias.
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"The destruction is not just affecting the paintings but also the
natural reserve. Hunters are to blame," said Ahmed Sarhan, a tourist
ministry official in Ghat.
"It's even a problem in Algeria. Authorities are too weak to stop
it," he said, adding that wildlife such as gazelles and wolves had
been almost extinguished by local hunters.
"It (Acacus) contains some of the most extraordinary scenery in the
world and has its unique natural wonders," UNESCO, the United
Nations cultural agency, said on its website. UNESCO has listed
Acacus as a World Heritage site, one of 981 worldwide recognized for
their outstanding universal value to humanity.
"Many tourists (once) visited the area, in particular Acacus since
it is one of the best touristic locations in Libya," said al-Amin
al-Ansari, a local tour operator. "The destruction of paintings is
regrettable," he said, standing in front of a cave with desecrated
paintings of camels and other animals.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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