By Hana Namrouqa

YARMOUK NATURE RESERVE – Visitors to the Yarmouk Nature Reserve can now enjoy panoramic views of the Yarmouk River, Golan Heights and Lake Tiberias from a new hiking trail which winds through forests of deciduous oaks.

Located in the northwest of the country, the reserve is Jordan’s newest eco-tourist destination with over 100,000 tourists visiting the area annually, according to conservationists.

“The Yarmouk Nature Reserve was 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 deciduous oak population,” Mohammad Yousef, head of the nature protection department at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), said on Thursday.

During a media tour organised by the RSCN to the reserve, he underscored the ecological importance of the tree, noting that deciduous oaks in the nature reserve constitute the bottom of the food pyramid, as several wildlife species directly and indirectly feed and benefit from it.

“The Yarmouk Nature Reserve is very rich in biological diversity and home to many globally and regionally threatened species. It is the gateway to the Jordan Rift Valley, the world’s second most important bird migration route,” Yousef noted

The sanctuary, which is spread over 20 square kilometres, 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, according to Hassan Hawatmeh, management officer at the Yarmouk Nature Reserve.

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.

“The reserve is also an important bird-watching area. Fifty-eight species are registered in the reserve, constituting 14 per cent of the bird species recorded in the Kingdom,” he said.

Hawatmeh noted that the nature reserve, which includes 30 hot and cold springs, attracts hundreds of tourists and picnickers during summer as well as winter, leaving it threatened by unregulated and random tourism.

“The major challenge we face is preserving the area from pollution, particularly littering, random grazing and illegal logging,” he noted.

Several rangers work around-the-clock to prevent illegal logging in the area, and during the weekends when the number of visitors rises, they acquaint picnickers with the need to protect the trees and distribute trash bags to stop littering.