Mideast Miracle

Mideast Miracle

Amid the region's political and religious turmoil, Jordan has set up a cluster of national parks that conserve an astonishing array of biodiversity.

By Andrew Lawler
Published: 11/01/2011

When the workshop first formed, it employed 15 women, aged 20 to 32. They work in a spanking-clean room wearing masks and eye protection along with traditional headscarves. "Before, women didn't go anywhere without permission," says Bassam Atiyeh, who pauses from her work to talk. "Now women are free to go out and work." They produce silver pieces based on Dana's diverse animal and plants, which appeal to outsiders and underscore the connection between the village and the reserve. And by growing fruits organically, turning them into jams and jellies, and marketing them in Wild Jordan's store in Amman and elsewhere, farmers again have found it worth their while to work their plots. Though the quantity is small, the shift has given new life to Dana's ancient ways.


These modest businesses made it easier for the Bedouin to accept the ban on hunting within the park, a move that at first outraged them. "It wasn't a hobby, it was a necessity," explains Khawaldeh. But now he says, "people have jobs and an income, so the necessity is no longer there."

The results are encouraging. In 1995 only two Nubian ibex, an endangered species, were found in the entire park. In the latest 2006 survey 168 individuals were counted, and Dana has become a critical refuge in southern Jordan for the animals, thanks to enforced hunting restrictions and increased vegetative cover following the grazing agreement. The Arabian oryx, with its luminescent white coat, was nearly extinct in the1960s. They have now been reintroduced to the Shaumari Reserve, while hopes remain high that the Arabian leopard, which had gone extinct in Jordan, will also be reintroduced. A caracal--the fiercest and fastest of small cats--was spotted prowling around Dana recently. And porcupines, badgers, hyenas, and the partridgelike chukar also are coming back.

Khawaldeh, meanwhile, says his people are committed to conservation. Though his cooperative is full of plans to increase tourist beds and to build a ceramics workshop, he is quick to add that he wants only "sustainable" tourism. "We don't want to put pressure in this fragile environment." It's surprisingly modern phrasing for a rural Bedouin. As we part, he gives me his email address and sends me out into the mist with Achmed, an elderly but spry villager who shows me around the orchards. Rebuilt retaining walls and new irrigation system feed the lush pear, pistachio, and almond trees. But with 10 children and no school in Dana, Achmed has moved his family to the new town on the road; he commutes each day to his orchards. Amid the low clouds and gusty winds, there are no other signs of life. Then, suddenly, a chukar flies up with a cry and a fluttering of wings, vanishing in the mist.

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Andrew Lawler

Andrew Lawler lives in rural Maine and contributes to Science Magazine, Smithsonian, National Geographic, and others.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

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