ECO-TOURS IN JORDAN
Ajloun Reserve - Azraq Reserve - Mujib Reserve - Shawmari Reserve - Dana Reserve
Eco-Tourism in Jordan
Ecotourism in Jordan has grown tremendously due to environmental pressures and the demand for jobs outside of the cities, especially since the establishment of the Dana Biosphere in 1993, the first biosphere reserve.
The early history of ecotourism in Jordan is attributed to His Majesty, the late King Hussein who was behind the creation of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, created in 1966, which protects and manages the natural resources of Jordan. It currently overseas ten protected areas. Jordan was one of the countries that responded to the declaration of the International Year of Ecotourism in 2002. Ecotourism practices were considered when planning for tourism destinations in order to improve its contribution to the local and national economic development.
Six nature reserves including the Ajloun Forest Reserve, Dana Biosphere Reserve, Mujib Nature Reserve, Azraq Wetland Reserve, Shaumari Wildlife Reserve, and Wadi Rum in addition to the Dead Sea, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, and the Gulf of Aqaba are distinguished.
Jordan uses tourism as a tool for conservation. By promoting tourism throughout the country, business owners and hoteliers contribute to conserving Jordan’s landscape. The ecotourism scheme has provided job opportunities and a market for local products, bringing much needed economic stability to some of Jordan’s poorest rural communities.
It is the local communities’ involvement in these nature reserves that makes eco-tourism a success. The local communities contribute to eco-tourism by leading tours and hikes, working in the lodges and restaurants, transporting people and resources, and other various jobs. Manual labor is used more than machines, providing a smaller impact on the environment and more jobs. Community members originally relied on hunting and herding for income. Now, with the wide variety of jobs, there is less hunting and a better standard of living. Herding was once sustainable, but with population growth there was too much pressure on the diverse plants and grazing area. Hunting was decreasing biodiversity and endangering animals like the Nubian ibex. Now, these animals are used as a tourist attraction rather than food. The communities still graze their herds, but they keep significantly less and respect no grazing areas.
Mujib Biosphere Reserve
The growing demand on water consumption in the region has seen the natural inflow to the Dead Sea diminish rapidly over the past years. So much so, that there is a risk of the sea drying up altogether within the next 50 years. This would be a devastating loss, not only for tourism and the economy, but also for the loss of the Dead Sea’s unique properties, the surrounding environment, and its flora and fauna.
To combat this critical situation, plans are being made to transport water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The operation, known as ‘Peace Conduit’ – since it involves the cooperation of Jordan, Israel and Palestine – aims at bringing 1.8 billion cubic metres of water annually to the Dead Sea.
The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) is deeply involved in the protection of wildlife and habitats within the area and has received international acclaim for its pioneering work in developing nature-based businesses for local people.
The Mujib Biosphere Reserve is the lowest-altitude nature reserve in the world, with its spectacular array of scenery near the East coast of the Dead Sea. The reserve is located within the deep Wadi Mujib gorge which enters the Dead Sea at 410m below sea level. The Reserve extends to the Karak and Madaba mountains to the North and South, reaching 900m above sea level in some places. This 1,300m variation in elevation, combined with the valley’s year-round water flow from seven tributaries, means that the Wadi Mujib enjoys a magnificent biodiversity that is still being explored and documented today.
Over 420 species of plants, 102 species of permanent and migratory birds, and10 species of carnivore including the Red Fox, Blandford Fox, Hyena, Jackal, Wild Cat, Caracal, Badger, Mongoose, Wolf and Arabian Leopard have been recorded to date. Some of the remote mountain and valley areas are difficult to reach, offering a safe haven to various species of cats, goats and other mountain animals.
Mujib’s sandstone cliffs are an ideal habitat for one of the most beautiful mountain goats in the world, the Nubian Ibex. The natural Ibex herds have declined over the years due to over hunting, prompting Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature to establish a captive-breeding programme for the Ibex within the Mujib Biosphere Reserve.
Mujib is also home to carnivorous species such as the Caracal, a medium-sized cat distinguished by its black and white ear tufts. An agile and powerful hunter, the Caracal can be spotted in action in the rocky valley of Mujib, using its amazing jumping power to catch airborne prey
Dibeen Forest Reserve
The newest addition to Jordan’s network of nature reserves, Dibeen was established in 2004. Located north of Amman and offering vista views, nature walks, and a rest house, Dibeen boasts an exceptionally large variety of trees of different sizes and ages.
The Shawmari Reserve is a breeding centre for some of the most endangered and rare wildlife in the Middle East. In this small reserve there is a large herd of magnificent Arabian Oryx, a species that was once on the verge of extinction. There are also ostriches, onagers and graceful desert gazelles. These animals are all rebuilding their populations in this safe haven, where they are protected from the hunting and habitat destruction that once threatened their existence.
The Shawmari Reserve supports a rich variety of desert plants, mainly because the vegetation inside the reserve is protected from the heavy grazing of sheep and goats outside its perimeters. Shawmari contains a very large number of species of plants, including Atriplex, a natural food source for the Onager and Oryx.
Ajloun Nature Reserve
Ajlun Nature Reserve is located in the Ajlun highlands (North of Amman), It consists of Mediterranean-like hill country, dominated by open woodlands of Oak and Pistachio trees. The Reserve was first established in 1988 when a captive-breeding programme for the Roe Deer was initiated. The reserve is located in an area named Eshtafeena. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature has set up two hiking trails and provided a special area for camping. Ajlun’s woodlands consist mostly of oak trees, interspersed with pistachio, pine, carob, and wild strawberry trees. These trees have been important to local people for their wood, scenic beauty and, quite often, for medicine and food.
Azraq Wetland Reserve
Azraq is a unique wetland oasis located in the heart of the semi-arid Jordanian eastern desert, one of several beautiful nature reserves managed by the RSCN. Its attractions include several natural and ancient-built pools, a seasonally flooded marshland, and a large mudflat known as Qa’a Al-Azraq. A wide variety of birds stop at the reserve each year to rest during their arduous migration routes between Asia and Africa. Some stay for the winter or breed within the protected areas of the wetland.
The best time to visit Al-Azraq is in late autumn, winter or spring. Winter rains often create pools and marshes over the reserve, which continue to attract many seasonal species of birds. The success of bird-watching visits depends largely on the amount of water that has accumulated in the reserve.
Azraq has an interesting geological history. It was once a vast oasis, its pools filled by a complex network of aquifers fed mainly from the Jebel Druze area of southern Syria – the waters taking up to 50 years en route. Surrounding the oasis is about 60 sq.m. of silt, beneath which is a vast concentration of salt.
Dana Biosphere Reserve
Dana Biosphere Reserve is an area of staggering beauty, history, and biodiversity. The only reserve in Jordan that encompasses the four different bio-geographical zones of the country (Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabian and Sudanian), it is a melting pot of species from Europe, Africa and Asia. Such a combination of natural communities in a single area is unique in Jordan and many of Dana Biosphere Reserve’s animals and plants are very rare. So far, a total of 800 plant speciesand 449 animal species have been recorded in the Reserve, of which 25 are known to be endangered, including the Sand Cat, the Syrian Wolf, the Lesser Kestrel and the Spiny Tailed Lizard.