The Shawmari Reserve is a breeding centre for some of the most endangered and rare wildlife in the Middle East. In this small reserve there is a large herd of magnificent Arabian Oryx, a species that was once on the verge of extinction. There are also ostriches, onagers and graceful desert gazelles. These animals are all rebuilding their populations in this safe haven, where they are protected from the hunting and habitat destruction that once threatened their existence.
The Shawmari Reserve supports a rich variety of desert plants, mainly because the vegetation inside the reserve is protected from the heavy grazing of sheep and goats outside its perimeters. Shawmari contains a very large number of species of plants, including Atriplex, a natural food source for the Onager and Oryx.
The Reserve offers an ideal camping site for families with kids, and numerous opportunities for fun and bonding with nature.
Tourist Information Centre: A reception point for visitors, at which information and brochures about the Reserve are available. There is also a Tourist Shop selling locally-made souvenirs such as silverware, decorated ostrich eggs and reed products.
Visitors’ Centre: Contains a small museum with a variety of interactive materials, slide shows, and videos on the history and wildlife of the Reserve. Outside the Centre is a picnic area and playground.
Observation Tower: Spotting wildlife is an exciting activity for nature lovers. The Observation Tower is an ideal place from which to see the different animals in the Reserve, such as the Oryx, which is best seen in the early hours of the morning. This is also a good place for bird-watching, especially during the migration seasons.
Oryx Safari Trip: Visitors are given the opportunity to take a safari trip to see first-hand the results of the international rescue efforts undertaken to save these endangered animals. Safari tours through the Oryx enclosure are available aboard RSCN vehicles.
Breeding Enclosures: Shawmari’s breeding enclosures also provide a small zoo, making the Reserve a popular place for children and school outings.
Shawmari Camp: The camp is located at the east end of the Nature Centre. There are currently 10 tents (accommodating 40 persons per night). Each is equipped with mattresses, pillows and sheets. There are showers and toilets nearby. These facilities are simple but clean. Food and beverage can be provided, if required. The camp is open throughout the year and its facilities are currently being extended.
The Oryx is an elegant white antelope, one of the few mammals indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula. It became extinct in Jordan during the 1920s, as a result of severe hunting for its meat, coat and horns.
The ever-increasing range and power of guns and motorized vehicles was the key to the destruction of the Oryx. A hunting party in Oman killed the last known wild Oryx in 1972. Fortunately, ten years previously, the Flora and Fauna Preservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund had launched an international rescue effort known as Operation Oryx. A World Survival Herd was established in the USA, with three animals from Oman, one from the London Zoo, one from Kuwait and four from Saudi Arabia. This herd has increased steadily in numbers, and the RSCN has proposed that the Oryx be introduced into its native habitat in the Arabian Desert.
In 1978 eleven Oryx were brought to Shawmari. Their numbers have now increased to an incredible two hundred. Operation Oryx has been so successful that Jordan now supplies Oryx to other Arabian countries that are conducting reintroduction programmes. In early 2002, a small herd of captive bred Oryx were transported to a special enclosure in Wadi Rum as part of a long-term plan to release them into the wild. This release is the first attempt, after their extinction in Jordan, to re-introduce them to their native habitat.
The Oryx has a variety of adaptations that make it well-suited for life in the desert. Their gleaming white coats reflect the sun and help keep them cool. They can go for long periods without drinking (eleven months is the longest recorded time), as they can get as much water as they need from the night-time dew on the desert plants.
The name Oryx derives from a Greek word meaning "pickaxe," which is descriptive of the animal's long pointed horns. These horns are used both for self-defense against predators and for fighting amongst themselves. This usually occurs when the leader of the herd is challenged by a younger male after a year or so of dominance. The younger one usually replaces the old leader in this ever-shifting power struggle.
The Ostrich is the world's largest bird - a fabulous, gawky creature that at one time roamed wild across the desert areas of Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia. Unfortunately, the native Syrian Ostrich is now extinct because of severe, unrestricted hunting.
The Ostrich breeding programme at Shawmari began with three Blue-Necked Ostrich sent by the Oklahoma City Zoo in the United States. These were supplemented over the years by birds from other collections and, through careful husbandry, the number now exceeds 30.
The large size and weight of the Ostrich makes it impossible for it to fly. Instead, it depends on its running speed to escape its predators. It is the fastest creature on two legs, capable of reaching speeds of 60 km/hr in less than 2 seconds!
Ostriches sometimes 'waltz' when they're feeling cheerful. They run in circles with their wings raised, often becoming so dizzy they fall down! This makes the Ostrich especially prone to broken legs.
The common joke about Ostriches burying their heads in the sand has no basis in reality. But it is known to flatten its neck and body on the ground when faced with danger.
Gazelles are small, slender antelopes with a short tail. There were a few Desert Gazelles living alongside the Oryx within the fenced Reserve. Unfortunately, several have died and others have escaped, leaving only two within the Reserve.
The Onager can be seen in a large captive breeding enclosure at Shawmari. Originally, there were only two Onagers that were donated to the Reserve by the Montpelier National Park in the south of France. Onagers are adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert, as they are able to go for long periods without water.
Other mammals occasionally seen in Shawmari include the Red Foxes, Caracals, Cape Hares, Jackals and Wild Cats.