Saving Wildlife: A New Roadmap for The Oryx in Jordan

Posted January 16, 2020

Oryx now graze freely in meadows suitable for their well-being

Azraq- It is a cold winter day, nevertheless, European tourists are seen hopping onto a pickup car to go into what promises to be an unforgettable experience: A safari into the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve. The goal: See the rich wildlife that is home to one of Jordan’s most precious treasures, the Arabian oryx.

The convertible cruises into the wilderness, bushes, shrubs and herbs cover the land of the 22-square kilometer reserve. After a few minutes of driving the car stops to a magical scene: A herd of beautiful oryx near a water pond. Undeterred by the curious watchers, they continue to drink water from the faux pond as tourists admired their sumptuous beauty.

Efforts to save the endangered oryx from extinction started in 1978 after 11 antelopes were introduced into the reserve. Today 61 oryxes inhibit the steppe areas of the rangeland, which boasts a magical combination of vegetation and subtle colours. Only lucky tourists get to see other inhabitants of the reserve, namely, the Persian onager, desert gazelles, striped hyenas, jackals, wolves and foxes.

In partnership with UNDP, The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) takes care of the revered rangeland, a delicate job that endeavors to save the animals while providing them with the habitat closest to their natural locale.

This is no easy task.

While taking care of the reserve, the RSCN was faced with rather obscure dilemmas: under grazing and detrimental impacts of drought. The productivity of rangeland and its ability to support a free-living herd of Oryx was being greatly inhibited by the lack of seasonal flooding in two of the main wadis crossing the reserve including Wadi Al Dhabi and Wadi Al Ghadaf. The uneven watershed resulted in irregular growth of shrubs. The bushes grew too wild the animals couldn't browse and graze.

According to Shaumari Reserve Director, Ashraf Halah, in some years the reserve did not receive any floodwater, which significantly reduced the forage production and the overall grazing capacity. The lack of floods flushing the entire Shaumari was attributed to natural events such as recurrent droughts during the last years and the construction of a large pond across Wadi Al Ghadaf by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, which ceased the flash floods to drain into the natural habitats of the reserve.

“On the other hand, and due to the limited number of animals we were faced by under grazing, as opposed to overgrazing which is a very common problem elsewhere,” he said.

In other parts of the reserve, flooding was causing some areas to overgrow herbs and shrubs. Wadi Shaumari was the only location that received floodwater annually, which produced a robust growth of herbs and shrubs, whereas Al Dhabi and Al Ghadaf wadis had not received floods in the past years. Some plants in the rangeland weren’t preferred by the animals and thus the increased size of the shrubs.

Quick intervention became compulsory.

The RSCN implemented a project supported by UNDP to ensure that the rangeland habitats within and around the Shaumari Nature Reserve can be sustained ecologically and financially.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) renewed its commitment to protecting wildlife and stopping wildlife crimes, such as poaching and trafficking. Wildlife trafficking and poaching have ravaged key populations of endangered wildlife, driving many to the brink of extinction. Elephants, rhinos, tigers, lions, sharks and gorillas, among many others, are under serious threat.

With financial and technical support from The GoAL Waters program; part of the UNDP Water and Oceans Governance Programme, coordinated by the Stockholm International Water Institute and funded by Sweden , the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) takes care of the revered rangeland, a delicate job that endeavors to save the animals while providing them with the habitat closest to their natural locale.

Through expert intervention, the project devised and implemented a watershed management plan defining the essential interventions required to maintain the desired hydrological regime within the target rangeland areas in Shaumari.

The watershed was managed so flashfloods can be equally distributed using sandy dams which diverted floods to barren areas.

On areas of high shrub growth, and faced with a few options, each with its adverse effects on the sensitive nature of the rangelands, the RSCN opted for the most naturally compatible option by using manual labour to manually chop the bushes, according to Halah.

He noted that areas with tall and old shrubs along Wadi Shaumari were defined and a rotational and periodic scheme for chopping the shrubs was devised and implemented. The society also monitored the impact of the chopping process on the vegetation covers and Oryx and Gazelle movement. The chopping process, its effectiveness and the feasibility of its application in other places were also assessed as the nature of the area made this an ongoing process.

The intervention resulted in an area most suitable to the living of wildlife animals. They now graze freely in a habitat identical to the one in which they previously bred, lived and reproduced.

The oryx shied away from the camera as they grazed in the wide meadows of the reserve. As the cameraman attempted to take a closer shot, they ran against the blue horizons leaving smiles on our faces.

In celebration of World Wildlife Day 2020 held annually on March 3rd, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is hosting its second annual Global Youth Art Contest in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

On this portfolio, UNDP Jordan is exploring new and innovative partnerships that help the Government of Jordan and communities to tackle illegal wildlife trafficking and poaching.