Published on Arab Voices

Lions and tigers and bears, what on earth! In Jordan, no less?

I have been working on biodiversity in protected areas in Jordan for several years, and I am still learning about this country. On my most recent trip, I discovered that Jordan is home to lions and tigers and bears. Imagine!

Source: Wiki Creative CommonsThe Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is located between three continents, giving Jordan a rich biodiversity. However, the location also makes Jordan a hot transit area for transporting wildlife both legally and illegally between sources and markets. The Wildlife Enforcement Unit at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) and Ministry of Agriculture are both effective in controlling smuggling of live wildlife in and out of the country. Once these animals (many of which are endangered species) are confiscated, it is difficult to find proper long term solutions for their release back into the wild and/or re-homing.  

The Princess Alia Foundation  is often the "last stop" for these animals. And what a menagerie they have collected!   A bear, lion cubs, 563 tortoises, striped hyenas, spotted hyenas, cheetah cubs, tiger cubs, and more. A good number of these animals were stopped at the border, and many will be returned to their native habitats. However, in the interim, they come to stay at New Hope, an animal sanctuary just outside of Amman.

Now, the Princess Alia Foundation and  Vier-Pfoten International are collaborating to establish the Al Ma'wa Center for Nature and Wildlife, which will serve as a regional hub providing the much needed long-term solutions for rescued wildlife. Al Ma’wa, located in one of the last remaining natural forests of Jordan and adjacent to the village of Souf, will continue New Hope's primary function as a rehabilitation and re-homing facility. However, for those animals who cannot be “repatriated", it will provide species-specific, spacious enclosures for wildlife where they may live as close to nature as possible. Al Ma’wa will be open to the public, establishing a new tourist area in the north of the country. There will be eco-chalets providing the visitors with overnight stays and a variety of activities will be available on site. There will be a full education program which will aim at creating awareness among the local, regional and international visitors to the site. Al Ma’wa will also provide practical training for veterinary practitioners, animal handlers and in animal management, opening new areas of employment for the local and regional workforce.   The local community in Souf will have priority in the job queue and local small businesses will be invited to sell their  products in Al Ma’wa thereby  providing the local community with a sustainable income.

What is so fascinating to me is that usually we hear the argument: "Because there are native species becoming endangered in habitat X, we must conserve it." Here the transfer of the "dislocated" animals from New Hope to Al Ma'wa means that where there was little (or really no) "large mammal" presence, there is a new balance of nature and biodiversity. For Al Ma'wa, the argument becomes: "Because there are displaced, endangered species whose lives necessitate native habitat, we must conserve it."  I am sure there will be more surprises in Jordan than just lions, tigers and bears!


Tracy Hart

Senior Environmental Specialist

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