The growth of ecotourism in Jordan has been remarkable, driven by both environmental concerns and the need for employment opportunities outside of urban areas. A significant milestone in this journey was the establishment of the Dana Biosphere in 1993, the country’s first biosphere reserve.
The early roots of ecotourism in Jordan can be traced back to His Majesty, the late King Hussein, who played a pivotal role in the creation of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in 1966. This organization is responsible for safeguarding and managing Jordan’s natural resources and currently oversees ten protected areas. Jordan was also among the countries that responded to the declaration of the International Year of Eco-tourism in 2002, incorporating ecotourism practices into the planning of tourism destinations to enhance their contribution to local and national economic development.
Several nature reserves, including the Ajloun Forest Reserve, Dana Biosphere Reserve, Mujib Nature Reserve, Azraq Wetland Reserve, Shaumari Wildlife Reserve, and Wadi Rum, along with the Dead Sea, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, and the Gulf of Aqaba, stand out as distinguished ecotourism destinations in Jordan.
By utilizing tourism as a conservation tool, Jordan’s business owners and hoteliers actively participate in preserving the country’s natural landscapes. This approach has not only contributed to the conservation efforts but has also created job opportunities and a market for local products, bringing much-needed economic stability to rural communities that were previously struggling.
The involvement of local communities is integral to the success of ecotourism in Jordan. These communities play a vital role by leading tours and hikes, working in lodges and restaurants, providing transportation services, and engaging in various other jobs related to ecotourism. Manual labour is prioritized over machinery, minimizing environmental impact and creating more employment opportunities.
In the past, these communities relied on hunting and herding for income. However, with the diverse range of jobs available in ecotourism, hunting has decreased, and the standard of living has improved. While herding was once sustainable, population growth exerted significant pressure on grazing areas and plant diversity. The shift towards eco-tourism has allowed animals like the Nubian ibex to be valued as tourist attractions rather than sources of food. As a result, communities now graze their herds in a more controlled manner, respecting designated no-grazing areas and ensuring the preservation of the ecosystem.
Mujib Biosphere Reserve
- The region has experienced a significant increase in water consumption, leading to a rapid decline in the natural inflow to the Dead Sea in recent years. This alarming trend poses a grave risk of the sea drying up completely within the next 50 years. Such an outcome would have devastating consequences, not only for tourism and the economy but also for the unique properties of the Dead Sea, the surrounding environment, and its diverse flora and fauna.
- To address this critical situation, plans are underway to transport water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea through an operation known as the “Peace Conduit.” This initiative involves the collaborative efforts of Jordan, Israel, and Palestine and aims to bring 1.8 billion cubic meters of water annually to replenish the Dead Sea.
- The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) plays a crucial role in safeguarding the wildlife and habitats in the area and has gained international recognition for its pioneering work in developing nature-based businesses that benefit local communities.
- Situated near the eastern coast of the Dead Sea, the Mujib Biosphere Reserve is the lowest-altitude nature reserve in the world, boasting a breathtaking range of landscapes. The reserve is nestled within the deep Wadi Mujib gorge, which descends to the Dead Sea at a remarkable 410 meters below sea level. It extends from the Karak and Madaba mountains in the north to the south, reaching elevations of up to 900 meters above sea level. This significant variation in elevation, coupled with the perennial water flow from seven tributaries, has created an extraordinary biodiversity that continues to be explored and documented.
- The reserve is home to over 420 plant species, 102 species of resident and migratory birds, and 10 carnivorous species, including the Red Fox, Blandford Fox, Hyena, Jackal, Wild Cat, Caracal, Badger, Mongoose, Wolf, and Arabian Leopard. Some remote mountain and valley areas are challenging to access, providing a safe haven for various species of cats, goats, and other mountain-dwelling animals.
- The sandstone cliffs of Mujib serve as an ideal habitat for the Nubian Ibex, one of the world’s most stunning mountain goats. Unfortunately, the natural Ibex herds have experienced a decline due to overhunting, prompting the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan to establish a captive-breeding program for Ibex within the Mujib Biosphere Reserve.
- Additionally, Mujib is a habitat for carnivorous species like the Caracal, a medium-sized cat recognized by its distinctive black and white ear tufts. Agile and powerful, the Caracal can be observed in action within the rocky valley of Mujib, utilizing its remarkable jumping ability to capture prey mid-air.
Dibeen Forest Reserve
- Dibeen, the latest addition to Jordan’s network of nature reserves, was established in 2004. Situated to the north of Amman, this reserve offers visitors stunning panoramic views, opportunities for nature walks, and a rest house where they can relax and immerse themselves in the natural surroundings.
- What sets Dibeen apart is its remarkable abundance and diversity of trees. The reserve is home to a wide variety of tree species, each characterized by its unique size and age. As visitors explore the reserve, they will encounter a rich tapestry of trees, ranging from towering giants to smaller saplings, representing different stages of growth and maturity.
- The presence of such a diverse array of trees in Dibeen creates a captivating and enchanting ambiance. Visitors can wander through the reserve, taking in the sights and sounds of the flourishing forest. The varying sizes and ages of the trees contribute to a visually striking landscape, with heights and canopies forming a captivating canopy overhead.
- Nature walks within Dibeen offer an opportunity to appreciate the intricate beauty of the reserve’s tree species up close. Visitors can observe the unique characteristics of each tree and marvel at their individual growth patterns, bark textures, and leaf structures. The diversity of trees in Dibeen ensures that nature enthusiasts and botany lovers alike will find much to discover and appreciate.
- Additionally, Dibeen provides a rest house where visitors can rejuvenate and enjoy a tranquil atmosphere amidst the natural surroundings. This facility serves as a peaceful retreat, allowing guests to unwind and immerse themselves fully in the serenity and beauty of the reserve.
- Overall, Dibeen Nature Reserve stands as a testament to Jordan’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage. Through its exceptional variety of trees, scenic views, nature walks, and rest house, Dibeen offers a remarkable and immersive experience for visitors, inviting them to connect with nature and appreciate the wonders of Jordan’s diverse ecosystems.
- The Shawmari Reserve in Jordan serves as a vital breeding center for some of the rarest and most endangered wildlife in the Middle East. Despite its small size, the reserve plays a crucial role in the conservation of various species that were once on the brink of extinction.
- One of the most notable success stories of the Shawmari Reserve is the Arabian Oryx. These magnificent creatures, characterized by their long, straight horns and elegant appearance, have made a remarkable comeback within the reserve. Once facing the threat of extinction, the reserve now harbors a large herd of Arabian Oryx, providing them with a safe haven to thrive and rebuild their populations.
- In addition to the Arabian Oryx, the Shawmari Reserve is home to other remarkable species. Ostriches, known for their impressive size and swift running ability, coexist within the reserve alongside onagers, which are a type of wild ass, and graceful desert gazelles. These animals find refuge within the reserve, shielded from the dangers of hunting and habitat destruction that previously posed significant risks to their survival.
- The Shawmari Reserve not only safeguards endangered wildlife but also supports a diverse array of desert plants. The vegetation within the reserve is allowed to flourish and thrive due to the protection it receives from the heavy grazing of sheep and goats outside the reserve’s boundaries. This protection ensures that the plants can grow undisturbed, providing essential food sources and habitats for the resident animals.
- Among the plant species found in the Shawmari Reserve is Atriplex, which serves as a natural food source for both the Onager and the Arabian Oryx. The presence of such vegetation is critical for sustaining the herbivorous populations within the reserve and contributes to the overall balance and ecological health of the ecosystem.
- The Shawmari Reserve exemplifies Jordan’s commitment to conservation and the preservation of its unique biodiversity. By providing a safe environment for endangered wildlife and protecting the delicate desert plants, the reserve plays a vital role in the ongoing efforts to restore and maintain the ecological balance of the region.
Ajloun Nature Reserve
- The Ajlun Nature Reserve is situated in the Ajloun highlands, located north of Amman, Jordan. The reserve encompasses a picturesque Mediterranean-like hill country landscape, characterized by open woodlands dominated by Oak and Pistachio trees. This unique combination of flora and terrain creates a captivating environment for visitors to explore and appreciate.
- The establishment of the Ajlun Nature Reserve dates back to 1988 when a captive-breeding program for the Roe Deer was initiated. This program aimed to protect and increase the population of this endangered species within the reserve. The specific area within the reserve where the program is conducted is known as Eshtafeena, and it serves as a sanctuary for the Roe Deer and other wildlife.
- To enhance visitors’ experience, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature has developed two hiking trails within the Ajlun Nature Reserve. These trails offer an opportunity to immerse oneself in the natural beauty of the reserve while enjoying scenic views and observing the diverse flora and fauna. Additionally, the reserve provides a designated camping area, allowing visitors to spend the night surrounded by the tranquil ambiance of the woodlands.
- The woodlands of Ajlun are predominantly composed of oak trees, which are interspersed with pistachio, pine, carob, and wild strawberry trees. These tree species not only contribute to the scenic beauty of the reserve but also hold great significance for the local communities. The wood from these trees has been traditionally used by locals for various purposes, including construction and fuel. Furthermore, the trees’ aesthetic appeal adds to the overall charm of the landscape. Additionally, some of these tree species, such as the carob, have been utilized for their medicinal and edible properties, further highlighting their importance to the local people.
- The Ajlun Nature Reserve stands as a testament to Jordan’s commitment to conservation and the preservation of its natural heritage. It offers visitors the opportunity to engage with the unique Mediterranean-like woodlands, appreciate their ecological value, and experience the harmony between human and natural interactions that have shaped the region for centuries.
Azraq Wetland Reserve
- Azraq is a truly unique wetland oasis nestled in the heart of Jordan’s semi-arid eastern desert. Managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), the reserve offers visitors a captivating natural experience. It is home to several natural and ancient-built pools, a seasonally flooded marshland, and a large mudflat known as Qa’a Al-Azraq.
- One of the main highlights of Azraq is its role as a crucial stopover for a wide variety of birds during their arduous migration routes between Asia and Africa. Each year, numerous bird species make a pitstop at the reserve to rest and refuel before continuing their long journey. Some birds even choose to spend the winter or breed within the protected areas of the wetland. This makes Azraq a prime bird-watching destination, with enthusiasts flocking to the reserve to observe and appreciate the diverse avian species.
- The best time to visit Azraq for bird-watching is generally in late autumn, winter, or spring. During these seasons, winter rains often create pools and marshes within the reserve, which continue to attract a multitude of seasonal bird species. The success of bird-watching visits largely depends on the amount of water accumulated in the reserve, as it directly impacts the availability of suitable habitats for the birds.
- Azraq’s geological history adds another layer of intrigue to its allure. In the past, it was a vast oasis, with its pools replenished by a complex network of aquifers primarily sourced from the Jebel Druze area in southern Syria. The water would take up to 50 years to make its way to Azraq. Surrounding the oasis is approximately 60 square kilometers of silt, beneath which lies a vast concentration of salt.
- Azraq’s unique wetland ecosystem, with its pools, marshes, and mudflats, provides a critical habitat for a wide range of plant and animal species. The reserve’s conservation efforts, managed by the RSCN, ensure the protection and preservation of this delicate ecosystem. Visitors to Azraq have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the tranquility of the wetland oasis, witness remarkable birdlife, and marvel at the geological wonders that have shaped the landscape over time.
Dana Biosphere Reserve
- Dana Biosphere Reserve is a truly remarkable area in Jordan, renowned for its breathtaking beauty, rich history, and unparalleled biodiversity. What sets it apart from other reserves in the country is that it encompasses all four of Jordan’s distinct bio-geographical zones: Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabian, and Sudanian. This unique combination of zones creates a melting pot of species from Europe, Africa, and Asia, resulting in a diverse and exceptional ecosystem.
- The coexistence of such varied natural communities within a single area is what makes Dana Biosphere Reserve truly special in Jordan. The reserve serves as a haven for numerous rare and endangered species, many of which are not found elsewhere in the country. To date, researchers have documented a staggering 800 plant species and 449 animal species within the reserve’s boundaries. Among these, 25 species are known to be endangered, highlighting the critical conservation importance of the reserve.
- Some of the endangered species found within Dana Biosphere Reserve include the Sand Cat, a small wildcat adapted to desert environments; the Syrian Wolf, a rare and elusive predator; the Lesser Kestrel, a small falcon species; and the Spiny Tailed Lizard, a unique reptile with distinctive spiky scales. These species, along with numerous others, find refuge within the reserve, benefiting from the protected habitat and conservation efforts.
- The biodiversity of Dana Biosphere Reserve extends to its flora as well. The reserve is home to a wide array of plant species, with 800 recorded so far. The plant communities within the reserve represent a diverse range of habitats, including forests, shrublands, and herbaceous vegetation. The presence of such a rich variety of plants contributes to the overall ecological balance of the reserve, supporting the diverse animal species that rely on them for food, shelter, and protection.
- Aside from its biodiversity, Dana Biosphere Reserve boasts stunning landscapes and a rich historical heritage. Visitors can explore the rugged canyons, dramatic cliffs, and expansive wadis that make up the reserve’s terrain. Additionally, the area is known for its archaeological sites, showcasing the remnants of ancient civilizations that once thrived in the region.
- Dana Biosphere Reserve stands as a testament to Jordan’s commitment to conservation and the preservation of its natural and cultural heritage. Through its protection of rare and endangered species, diverse plant communities, and awe-inspiring landscapes, the reserve offers visitors a truly immersive experience where they can appreciate the beauty of nature and understand the importance of biodiversity conservation.