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Azraq and Shaumari
The Reserve of Azraq was established in 1978. It is located in the eastern desert and covers 12 square kilometers
To get there isn't easy. You just about have to have a car; at the time of writing this, no public transport goes anywhere near Azraq Reserve. There used to be a bus from Zarqa north of Amman, but my information is that this service no longer exists. If you head east out of Amman with a rental car you pass the other best known "Desert Castles" of Qasr Hraneh and Qasr Amra on the road going through Muwaggar and arrive at Azraq at the junction with the main Baghdad Highway. The Nature Reserve is close to Azraq al Janubi, and perhaps 3kms from the Castle of Azraq.
The oasis of Azraq is probably the best known of the older reserves. The word Azraq means "blue" in Arabic and before water pumping began in the 1980s the oasis provided "a sparkling blue jewel" in the desert. Underground water flowing down from Jebel Druze in Syria surfaced here and the slightly older guide books speak of it as a marsh that sheltered up to half a million migrating birds at any one time. In recent years this changed drastically as the towns of Irbid and later Amman drew heavily on the water here and by 1994 the marsh was all but destroyed. However more recently still an alternative source of water has been found in the aquifer of Dissieh and water is gradually being pumped back into the marsh.
A six million dollar restoration scheme was funded and implemented with help from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility, a member of the World Bank Group and over 160 species of birds have already returned to the wetland. Last year it was estimated that 347,000 birds were to be found in the marsh. The area now offers homes to water buffaloes, blue-necked ostriches, Nubian ibexes, and countless varieties of dragonflies.
Board walks and bird hides have been built to enable visitors to see and enjoy this green area in the heart of the desert.
There is a centre for visitors offering tourist information. There is also a rare archaeological site nearby : a dam dating from the Umayyad period. The lodge located outside the reserves near South Azraq contains a common room with a fireplace, and 5 private two -room bungalows. For booking and for all other information on Azraq and Shaumari reserves you should get in touch with the Azraq Lodge: Tel/Fax. +962.5.383.5017
The entrance fee for Azraq Reserve is 2JD or 3JD if you also want to visit Shaumari.
The RSCN organises tours as follows of Azraq and Shaumari Reserves, the price is 1JD per person if there are 10 people in the group, or 10JD for the group (to be shared between the visitors) for a group of less than 10 people. I quote from their brochure :
Shaumari Reserve was established in 1975, covers 22 square kilometers and is the oldest of the reserves. It was created in 1975 for breeding endangered species.
It isn't far from Azraq, out in the desert about 12 kms from Janubi. Although the publicity makes it sound romantic, it is in fact completely flat and rather dusty (see above photo). A visitors' centre tells the story of the reserve and a special shuttle takes up to 15 people to see the free-roaming herds. There is also a small picnic area and children's play ground.
The big success of Shaumari is the oryx. Their breeding programme got off to a slow start, but this was explained when somebody realised that there were no females in the breeding herd. Once this had been rectified things started moving, and last year there were over 200 animals. In fact this is starting to become something of a problem; the original idea was that they should be released into the wild, but the likely reaction of the local Bedouin has led to some hesitation over this. At the beginning of 2002 about 20 animals were transferred to a blind valley in Wadi Rum where they are under the surveillance of the Reserve rangers there. We'll see!
Other animals being bred successfully at Shaumari are the onager (the wild ass), the ostrich and the ibex or gazelle. Several countries have donated breeding stock and the breeding enclosures provide a small zoo for visitors making it a popular spot for children and school outings. There is an observation tower, making it possible to watch the animals without trudging through the desert dust. You can also "adopt" an oryx if you like!
Some of the wildlife here are the Cape hare, red fox, gerbil and even the striped hyena and the wild cat. The entrance fee is 2JD for Shaumari alone, or 3JD for both Azraq and Shaumari.