I’m taking the taxi from Jericho to Al Auja along the highway cutting through the Jordan Valley. The sun is blazing, small wind tornadoes are raising dust from the sandy soil and, due to the lack of water and vegetation, shades of brown are dominating the landscape. On first sight, this place does not seem to support a rich biodiversity. However, staying at Auja Environmental Center and taking a closer look around the area has let me see it in a different light.
As one of the main aspects the Center focuses on is ecotourism and environmental education, it provides a range of guided hikes. These hikes offer a fantastic opportunity to learn about the wildlife in this region. What makes the experience even more valuable and informative are the guides themselves – local Bedouin people who know the place like the back of their hand.
Muhanad is one of them. “Tonight is a full moon, the perfect time for a hike! Yalla!” he says, as he grabs his flashlight and rushes us off to the fields around Al Auja. I am amazed by the abundance of birds crowding the trees. Muhanad tells us about the different species, their migration patterns and how this habitat – part of which is listed as a Middle Eastern Important Bird Area (IBA) – is threatened by ongoing environmental pollution and degradation.
Other wildlife we come across includes gazelles, foxes, bugs and spiders, whose eyes reflect Muhanad’s flashlight and allow him to spot them from an unbelievable distance – this spider he detected from a distance of about 30 meters… at night!
A few days later we head off to explore the mountains and gorges nearby in order to enhance the variety of hiking trails the center will offer to ecotourists. The site we are investigating used to be inaccessible due to military training, so we have no idea what to expect. On the way there, just off route 90, we are surprised to find spots of rich vegetation in the dry desert where the flora attracts a variety of wildlife, such as numerous gazelles and several endangered bird species. When we arrive at the wadi (meaning valley in Arabic), we catch a glimpse of a Palestinian red fox, a species which is facing the threat of becoming endangered.
Sami and Iyad, two experts on the ecology of the Jordan Valley, are accompanying us equipped with binoculars, a field guide book and an impressive knowledge about all aspects of the natural richness of this area. “I have never seen that many gazelles around here, it is amazing! Unbelievable!” – Sami cannot get enough of taking photos. I chuckle at the sight of everyone being excited like kids.
After the hike there we all agreed that we are looking forward to sharing this experience with people interested in the ecology of the Jordan Valley!
This blog entry was written by Teresa Berninger, intern at the Auja Environmental Center and student of Agricultural Biology at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna