Jordan is blessed with an incredible natural diversity. Nowhere is this more visible than in the seven nature reserves of (RSCN) The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. From the desert oasis of the Azraq Wetland Reserve to the dramatic gorges and rivers of the Wadi Mujib Reserve, this system of reserves protects much of Jordan's most dramatic topography, in addition to the Kingdom's flora and fauna. The RSCN also protects the peoples of the reserve areas by creating sustainable economic options for them, either in the reserves or through its tourism arm, Wild Jordan.
The Dana Reserve is possibly the best known of Jordan's nature reserves. This showplace, set up in 1993, has become an exemplar of how to set up a sustainable, eco-friendly reserve. With its network of guided and unguided hiking trails, its campground, guesthouse and eco-lodge with their staffs of residents, its dramatic wadis and mountains dropping about 1600 meters from the highest point, there are 320 square kilometers full of things to do and marvel at Most surprising is not the Nabataean tomb, but the sea urchin fossils, now so far from the sea!
Some of the animals in Dana are truly unique. The Caracal cat is such a great jumper that it can catch birds in midair. 80% of the world's population of Tristan's Serin, a small finch found only in the Middle East, lives in Dana. It is not uncommon for visitors to be serenaded at night by grey wolves, as at least three packs live within Dana.
Wadi Feynan is at the western edge of the Dana Reserve area. The primary destination here is the Feynan Eco-lodge, an adobe guesthouse powered entirely by solar energy and lit at night primarily by candles. It is located close to the ruins of Khirbet Feynan, the ruins of a community centered around a copper mine. There is evidence of inhabitants in this area during the Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic times. The austere but beautiful surroundings, and its emphasis on interaction rather than electronic entertainment, make the eco-Lodge a romantic destination away from the stresses of modern life.
The Ajloun Forest Reserve is 13 square kilometers covered in wild pistachio, carob and oriental strawberry trees. It is a green gem, surrounded by lush orchards of olive, pomegranate and fig trees. It was originally set up in 1988 as a breeding program for indigenous Roe Deer. The reserve and the area surrounding it are dotted with ruins. The most famous is Salahidin's Ajloun Castle, but perhaps the most intriguing is Mar Ilyas, the ruins of one of the oldest churches found in Jordan, and sacred to Ilyas, who is known in the Bible as Elijah. There is an enjoyable, guided hike from the reserve to Mar Ilyas, and onto the castle. Ajloun is a wonderful place to hike, watch wildlife and camp.
Dibbeen Reserve, located near the Ajloun Reserve, is 8 square meters of cool forest, featuring oak and Aleppo pines in the lower areas. This is the driest area in the world where Aleppo pines are known to grow naturally, and the pines here are some of the oldest and largest in the kingdom. It's a lovely area, with a wide variety of plants, including several species of orchids. It protects at least 17 globally endangered species, including reptiles, plants and birds. It also hosts a number of Persian squirrels, the only variety of squirrel found in the Middle East, as well as grey wolves and striped hyenas. This reserve is known as one of the coolest places in Jordan during the summer.
Wadi Mujib, located on the eastern edge of the Dead Sea, is adventure travel at its best! Its 212 square kilometers of mountains and rivers are tough and fast-running, even in summer. This is the wildest, least accessible reserve in the RSCN system, and the second largest. Most of the trails involve swimming for long periods and there is a twenty-meter waterfall to traverse! But the flora and fauna of the area, including the Nubian ibex and the tufted-ear Caracal, are worth the effort of the climb, as is the dramatic leap in elevation from 900 meters above sea level to 400 meters below.
Ironically, a little bit of Mujib's culture can be found in the Louvre Museum in Paris. A French traveler named Ferdinand de Solci visited the area and found a black basalt statue representing a Moabite leader known as Faqu. Within the reserve are two villages, one of which, Faqua, takes its name from the statue. The history of the villages goes back over 3000 years, through Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Nabataean and early Islamic civilizations, as the areas were busy trading centers.
As opposed to Wadi Mujib, the Shaumari Reserve is perhaps the most accessible in the system, organized in 1975 to house the captive oryx breeding program. Today, the oldest reserve hosts not just oryx but also the onager or wild ass, blue- and red-necked ostriches, gazelles and ibex. Set up as a wildlife park, the free-ranging herds of some of the rarest animals in the Middle East can be observed from blinds set up around the park and from shuttles. Shaumari's role as a breeding center, its network of shuttles and blinds, and its educational center make it a particularly good choice for school visits and wildlife sightings. Other animals who live in the reserve include the Red Fox, Cape Hare and Jackal.
Azraq Reserve, with its new eco-lodge, is located between the two villages of Azraq and Azraq Al-Janubi. This area was an important trading area due to its fertile oasis, which were the biggest east of the Jordan River valley. Azraq Reserve strives not only to restore the wetlands, its flora and fauna, but also to enable these two distinctive cultures to flourish and maintain their unique characteristics. The Azraq area was once a haven for wildlife, as evidenced by the nearby Desert Castles, some of which were used as hunting lodges. The wetlands of the Azraq oasis gained their name, which means "blue" in Arabic, from the color of the pools and marshland. The skies were often obscured by the enormous numbers of birds who took advantage of the welcome break in the desert on their migration paths. However, by 1993, the pressure on the area by the water needs of the towns of Zarqa and Azraq, coupled with over-grazing and fire damage had destroyed the oasis.