Azraq Wetland Reserve

Azraq Wetland Reserve

An oasis for migratory birds, Azraq was established in 1978 and covers 12 square kilometres (4.6 sq mi)

The Azraq Wetland Reserve is a nature reserve located near the town of Azraq in the eastern desert of Jordan.  The natural springs dried up in 1992 and most migratory birds subsequently moved away from the area. Artificial springs are maintained today in order to keep the site a tourist destination.

History

The wetlands were created some 250,000 years ago as a result of being fed by aquifers that corresponded with geological changes. Azraq has, since ancient times, been the crossroads of both human trade routes and bird migrations. Millions of cubic meters of freshwater attracted camels caravans carrying spices and herbs traveling between Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Syria. Millions of migrating birds stopped in Azraq between Africa and Europe. However, in the 1960s, water began to be pumped to support Amman’s booming population. In 1978, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature established Azraq as a wetlands reserve. By 1992, however, the springs dried up, and the aquifers that had once gushed ceased to provide. All the water buffalos of Azraq died, and many migrating birds went to the Sea of Galilee instead.

Azraq today

The Azraq wetlands have been described as in the state of “ecological collapse”. RSCN continues to fight an uphill battle against rising population and a growing demand for water. The 10,000,000 cubic metres (353,146,667 cu ft) of water per year provided by the Jordanian Ministry of Water to maintain Azraq is only sufficient to restore Azraq to 10% of its original size. Today, there are more than 500 illegal wells still pumping water from Azraq. In just 37 years the numbers of migrant birds have reduced from 347,000 on February 2, 1967 to 1200 birds on February 2, 2000. Azraq provides drinking water for one-quarter of Amman. 25 square kilometres (9.7 sq mi) once covered by wetlands have now dried up.

Accommodation

RSCN maintains an Azraq Lodge several kilometers away from the wetlands which features a gift shop, restaurant, 16 rooms in a 1940s British military hospital, and a reception area.

Trails and activities

The Marsh Trail is a raised platform going through the reserve that is approximately 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi). Sections of the trail are on land going through the reeds. Halfway through the trail is the mud-brick “rustic bird hide”, overlooking one of the reserve’s lagoons, which is used for bird seeing.

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Photos

The Azraq Marsh Trail.
The reception area at the Azraq Lodge.

Useful Information

Azraq Wetland Reserve

Wildlife

Migratory birds come from Anatolia, Scandinavia, Siberia, and Africa, stopping in Azraq during the long journey. The partial restoration of the wetlands by RSCN have resulted in the return of several migratory species, such as the Hoopoe Lark, Cetti's Warbler, the Desert Finch, and the Marsh Harrier. Among the 280 recorded migratory species in Azraq are the Ruff, Avocet, Little Stint, and the Little Ringed Plover. Additionally, several birds of prey stop in Azraq, such as the European Honey Buzzard and Montagu's Harrier.

Prehistoric Wildlife

From ancient times, Azraq, ecologically, was a continuation of Africa. In this time period, many animals often characterized as African lived in Azraq. Among these species were the onager, wild camel, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, elephant, gazelle, aurochs, cheetah, Syrian Ostrich, lion, and Arabian Oryx. All of these animals, except the gazelle, are now extinct in Azraq, and Jordan alike.