Jordan is a bird's paradise; a new project hopes to promote it to tourists

(Photos: Handout from Fares Rahahleh)
(Photos: Handout from Fares Rahahleh)
AMMAN — The Migratory Soaring Birds Project hopes to support one of Jordan’s most often overlooked tourism draws, and build a foundation for avitourism in the country once the pandemic is over. اضافة اعلان

Funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and conducted in collaboration with BirdLife, the project will take advantage of Jordan’s location and the thousands of birds that migrate through the country every year, as well as the unique species that call the Kingdom home.

Tareq Qaneer, a bird specialist at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RCSN), described birdwatching as a global type of tourism and subgenre of environmental tourism.

He explained that the significance of Jordan as a destination for birdwatching is twofold: Jordan lies along important migratory routes and is also home to rare species of birds.

“One of the most important migratory routes, which goes from Turkey to Africa, passes through Jordan. … Millions of migratory birds fly through Jordan,” he said. 

Additionally, certain species of birds — while native to the region — are “best represented” in Jordan.

Qaneer said that one such example is the Syrian serin, which can be found in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria but exists in much larger numbers in Jordan and nests at the Dana Biosphere Reserve.

Another example is the Sinai rosefinch, which has become a draw for foreign birdwatchers, especially from the United States and Europe.

The Nubian Nightjar, the Desert Lark, and the Dead Sea sparrow — which frequent the Dead Sea and Southern Ghor — also draw foreign tourists.

“Jordan also has the potential to become an important destination for birdwatching tourists. Neighboring countries have taken advantage of this type of global tourism and generate large amounts of money as a result,” Qanner explained.

“For example, Turkey’s income from birdwatching tourism is close to 1 billion dollars.”

As such, the program hopes to develop Jordan’s capacity for and marketing of birdwatching tourism.

Qaseem added that the majority of birdwatching tourists come from the United States, Australia, and European countries like Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Britain.

“If a tourist wants to come for the purposes of birdwatching, there needs to be a program for that. Travel companies also need a program they can advertise,” he continued.

The Migratory Soaring Birds program comes with several options depending on tourist preferences, including duration of the trip and birdwatching routes.

Qaseem outlined two different types of tourists that the program accommodates. “Twitchers” have a list of birds that they hope to see and therefore look for specific species, while others are more interested in the migratory patterns of birds.

He added that the project has worked to develop a training program for around 20 people to visit the areas — whether in Aqaba, Southern Ghor, Azraq, or Shaumari — that are most attractive to birdwatchers.

“We picked 20 people from local communities and, to create new job opportunities for them, we will have them join the tourist groups for a duration of eight days,” he said.

In addition to tourism, the project will also operate across four other sectors, including energy, agriculture, hunting, and waste management.

Qaseem emphasized the need to work with local associations, like the Ministry of Tourism, in addition to travel companies to ensure the success of the program.

He also noted that, in collaboration with this program, some resorts are looking to birdwatching as a means of diversifying the activities that they offer.

Because Aqaba is an important resting place for birds before they cross the ocean and fly into Africa, Ayla Oasis has built bodies of water for the birds, in addition to having recently created a “Feather” trail that any visitor can walk through to watch birds.

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