Dana Biosphere Reserve

Dhana village, Jordan, Dana Biosphere Reserve. Photo: Fares Khoury

Contents

  • Jordan Birdwatch’s call
  • Jordan Birdwatch’s statement issued on the 19th of August 2021
  • Further links

Does a copper mine have priority over nature and world heritage?

The Dana Nature Reserve is one of the most diverse and important bird areas in the Middle East with breeding populations of globally threatened species like Sooty Falcon and Syrian Serin.

Dana Biosphere Reserve, Red Sand Habitat, south Jordan. Photo: Fares Khoury
Red Sand Habitat, south Jordan. Photo: Fares Khoury

The habitats in the reserve have been suffering locally from droughts and local overgrazing by livestock and woodcutting. However this is nothing compared to the destruction expected from the copper mining being planned in the western side of the Reserve. We urge all who care and who are working in the fields of nature conservation, education and (eco-)tourism to raise awareness about this case.

Syrian serin, Dhana, Jordan. Photo: Fares Khoury
Syrian serin, Dhana, Jordan. Photo: Fares Khoury

The reserve is located along the southern rift margins of Jordan with an altitudinal range of 60 below sea level to around 1500 above sea level, and being at the crossroad of three continents, it is no wonder that this reserve holds so much diversity, ranging from deserts and arid acacia stands in the lowlands to mountain steppe and open juniper and evergreen oak woodlands.

Dhana village, Jordan, Dana Biosphere Reserve. Photo: Fares Khoury
Dhana village, Jordan, Dana Biosphere Reserve. Photo: Fares Khoury

We urge all who care and who are working in the fields of nature conservation, education and (eco-)tourism to raise awareness about this case.

Statement issued by Jordan BirdWatch, dated 08/19/2021

Subject: Decision to remove part of the Dana Nature Reserve for mining purposes

The Dana Biosphere Reserve is considered one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the Middle East due to its geographical location between three continents, and the great variation in terrain, climate and habitats within a relatively small area.

It is characterized by a heterogeneous landscape and a great diversity of plant species and resident and migratory birds. 

The area of ​​Dana and Feinan is also globally famous for its distinctive archeological sites and historical importance, displaying the development of human civilization that began in the Stone Ages. 

The area contains beautiful archaeological and natural sites visited by a large number of tourists. There is still great potential of developing Feinan and its surroundings in a sustainable manner as tourist destination, and to be a source of continuous income for local communities and for future generations. 
In fact, the reserve area including the village of Dana were almost deserted before the establishment of the reserve in 1994, but many of the original inhabitants came back, indicating the importance of this reserve from an economic point of view for the local communities.

All activities related to copper exploration and mining in the Dana Reserve will have devastating effects on the natural environment, heritage and the economy of local communities. The previous and current efforts to protect and sustainably develop the area will be totally lost. The decision of the government to change the borders of the reserve, and promises of the authorities to the public about great profits and new job opportunities in copper mines is currently based on assumptions, and not supported by published, professional assessments or scientific studies.

Assessments of the direct and accumulated negative effects on the environment and economic feasibility studies are not known to exist or to have been published. 

The decision contradicts the goals of sustainable development and principles of environmental protection, and it also violates some international treaties (Rio conventions) to which Jordan is a signatory. The Dana Nature Reserve will probably lose its title of “Biosphere Reserve” granted by UNESCO if the borders are significantly shifted and the area reduced by a quarter.

Jordan BirdWatch is a specialized environmental society which develops and implements its programs based on scientific knowledge. Accordingly, we would like to inform first and foremost the Ministry of Environment, of our position, refusing to exclude any part of the Dana Nature Reserve, due to the expected detrimental effects of mining activities. We also recommend to strengthen and improve the management system for all nature reserves in Jordan.

We all as members of the Jordanian society bear the responsibility of protecting and preserving the environment for future generations.

Further links:

  • Letter to the ministry of Antiquities, undersigned by members of the community of international and Jordanian archaeologists:

CONTACT JBW

Trapping of Falcons in Jordan

Falcon hunting in Jordan - JBW

As part of the “People and Birds of the Southern Levant” project, a study was carried out on illegal trapping of large falcons in eastern Jordan. The results were published in Sandgrouse (Khoury et al 2020). The report provides a much needed counterpoint to recent media outputs that glorify modern falconry in the region as a practice steeped in ancient desert tradition and a ‘heritage sport’.

In reality, modern falconry has evolved into a widespread sport in the Gulf region, stimulating the captive breeding and release programs of species targeted by falconers, such as Macqueen’s Bustard, establishing reserves for falconers, and other novel activities like falcon “beauty contests” and races.

The higher demand for wild falcons has elevated black market prices and thus trapping pressure on large falcons like the Saker and Lanner that are globally or regionally threatened. Illegal falcon trapping in eastern Jordan started in the 1950s and accelerated in the 1980s to meet rising demand for wild falcons due to the rise of modern falconry practices fuelled by growing wealth in the Gulf region.

Trafficking is apparently well organized in the Middle East region, with the help of social media outlets, and much of the falcon smuggling remains undetected at border crossings.

Fares Khoury, Cheryl Makarevicz, Abdel-Razzaq Al-Hmoud and Steve Mithen (2020): The illegal trapping of large falcons in Jordan. Sandgrouse 42, 239-247.

Owl chick rescue

A long-eared owl chick rescued by Al-Weibdah inhabitants and Jordan BirdWatch

Jordan BirdWatch is frequently contacted during the breeding season of birds, to collect and deal with chicks, often fully grown but still not able to fly properly. In one case, a Jackdaw chick was being kept on the roof of a house by people who took the chick from children playing near their home. The chick probably fell from its nest while attempting its first flight. JBW advised to immediately return the chick to the nesting site and place it on a higher place, safe from ground-dwelling predators.

In another case the chick of a Long-eared Owl was found grounded in a garden in Al-Weibdah in Amman, probably after attempting to leave the nest. The habitants contacted JBW and kept it in a safe place for a day or two. JBW personnel then placed the seemingly healthy bird on the branch of a tall tree. It was evident that the nest was located nearby and the parents were present and still feeding the chick after it left the nest. The young owl was spotted in the days following its rescue, perching on the branches of the trees in the same garden.

Unfortunately, most “grounded” Owls, Birds of Prey and other birds are mistakenly deemed orphaned – they’re actually just in the process of testing their wings. Many young birds disperse from their nests long before they can fly – this prevents overcrowding in the nest as the chicks grow. This is nature’s way of helping to minimise any threat to the entire clutch from predators. Many young birds lose their footing during these first explorations and fall to the ground”. A grounded chick may look lost and vulnerable, but the parents are likely to know where it is and will continue to feed it. Owl chicks can climb up bushes and trees to stay safe https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=81

The risks and advices

What JBW observed and the measures to take in a rescue situation

Healthy owl chicks that would still have a chance to survive in the wild are often taken to local conservation or animal welfare societies or facilities in Jordan with the good intension of “saving its life”. In some cases people take things into their own hand and attempt to feed and care for the bird themselves, then give up after the bird becomes a “nuisance”, or so weakened it would be difficult to save. It is usually impossible for non-specialists to determine the age and physical condition of a chick, and thus its chances to survive in the wild; in many cases the chicks are deemed “orphaned” or even injured because they still are not able to fly well. That is why we advise calling JBW to get appropriate advice and assistance and before taking the birds into what often turns out to be a life-long captivity. Evidently, some of the birds brought to these facilities are kept in captivity indefinitely and are sometimes used as additional attraction for visitors.

Some of the owl species are still threatened or rare in Jordan (see our Bird list), due to habitat destruction, disturbances at nesting sites, persecution and deliberate collection of owls from the wild and offering them for sale on social media platforms. Eleven species of owls have been recorded in Jordan including nine that breed in the country, one of which became extinct a few decades ago. Although considered by some Jordanians as “bad luck”, these magnificent birds provide humans with a lot of “services” when in the wild and thus deserve more appreciation and protection in Jordan.

All information concerning Birds in Jordan is available in our Bird list, species and their conditions are regularly observed and updated by JBW.