by Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN — Hiking trails and biking trips will be among eco-tourism activities offered to visitors at the Yarmouk Nature Reserve starting this year.

A visitors centre with a café and a nature shop will also be established to promote products made by area residents from locally grown ingredients, Yarmouk Nature Reserve Director Ali Subeihat said on Saturday.

“A range of programmes will be organised starting this year as part of a strategy to develop eco-tourism in the area including training local guides, providing accommodations and camping sites and promoting local products,” Subeihat said.

The strategy will be implemented under a memorandum of understanding between the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), which is tasked with managing the country’s nature reserves, and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities signed earlier this year.

“Implementation of the eco-tourist activities will commence after the strategy, which is being evaluated, is approved,” Subeihat noted.

One of Jordan’s newly created protected areas, the eco-tourist destination is located in the northwest of the country in Irbid Governorate.

More than 100,000 tourists visit the area annually to enjoy its panoramic views of the Yarmouk River, Golan Heights and Lake Tiberias.

Established in 2010 to preserve vital and rare ecosystems, particularly deciduous oak trees, the reserve is home to 85 per cent of the country’s population of deciduous oak, which constitutes the bottom of the food pyramid in the reserve, as several wildlife species directly and indirectly feed and benefit from it, according to ecologists.

Rich in biological diversity and home to many globally and regionally threatened species, the 20-square-kilometre sanctuary houses 255 plant species including Orchis Anatolica and Orchis papilionacea, which are rare orchids threatened with extinction.

The reserve is also home to 20 mammals such as otters, wolves and hyenas, and 15 kinds of reptiles. It also supports many rare animals including the globally threatened mountain gazelle and one species of fish found only in the Yarmouk catchment, according to the RSCN website.

In addition, the reserve is an important bird-watching area, with 58 species registered, constituting 14 per cent of the bird species recorded in the Kingdom, according to the society.