Guest article by Diana of Elephant Soul Crafts.
How to Be an Animal-Friendly Tourist in Jordan
Jordan is known for hosting a myriad of ancient biblical sites, for its golden pink desserts, for the ancient city of Petra and for having the lowest point on earth, located at the Dead Sea.
It is also a small kingdom where people of two major religions, Islam and Christianity, live together peacefully. And it is worth mentioning that Jordan is also a paradise for vegan foodies.
For these and other reasons, Jordan is a very popular tourist destination. Just last year, over 800,000 people visited Petra alone.
You can imagine that tourism, aside from being a good source of income, is also an activity that puts a lot of pressure on local resources, like the working animals we’ll talk about in this post.
Before we dive into that, I want to tell you about a recent visit I made to a wildlife refuge just one hour away from Jordan’s capital, Amman.
The animals who live there came from bombarded zoos in war zones, abusive circuses and private homes. Now, their lives tell a completely different story: a happy one.
Recommended Sanctuary for Animals of Jordan
There is something special about seeing wildlife so close up. It’s a thrill, it’s exciting, and you feel privileged to be able to be there, just a few meters away. How often do you get the chance to meet a lion’s powerful gaze or see a Syrian brown bear hibernate?
When you remember why you’re able to do so in the first place, however, it is saddening. Knowing that these animals belong in nature, under shady trees with vast areas of land, where they can roam around freely and not in foreign sanctuaries, makes you wonder if captivity is a suitable life for them after all.
Before moving to Jordan, I had heard about Al Mawa for Nature and Wildlife. It was featured in a National Public Radio (NPR) news article that mentioned how several animals were going to experience the green outdoors for the first time in their lives. I remember feeling ecstatic about this place and hoping I’d have a chance to visit this wildlife reserve one day.
The time finally came, and it did not disappoint. I always dread seeing cruelty at places that call themselves “sanctuaries”, but this was not the case with Al Mawa.
During my recent visit there, I realized that, although the ideal place for their 17 lions should be in the African savannah, this sanctuary was their best chance to heal, thrive, and multiply.
Their safety and wellbeing are top priority here. For example, the big cats live together with other ones with whom they are proven to have a good relationship.
Some of the other big cats are kept separate from them, even though they are blood relatives, since the staff doesn’t know for sure if they were socialized before coming into the sanctuary.
The animals at Al Mawa are well fed, and they live in an open space surrounded by trees and artificial pools. I was fascinated by their roars, where each male was trying to convince the other one that he was king.
Of the many stories we heard about the individual lions, tigers and bears, there were two that stayed in my mind. The first is the story of Sultan, one of the lions rescued from the Gaza Strip.
Thanks to Al Mawa and Four Paws International, the organization that conducted the rescue and transfer, Sultan is living his best life ever.
Before coming here, Sultan didn’t know what scratching his face on tree branches or standing on soil meant. He had lived in a sad concrete enclosure all of his life.
The other story that really touched me is that of Hamzeh, whose name means “strong” in Arabic. Hamzeh was not bothered by our small group of fans who had come to visit him.
He rolled on his back, stared at us, rolled again, and posed for the camera a couple of times. He was rescued from a zoo in Syria, together with three others.
In addition to the lions, there are also two Bengal tigers and four bears living at Al Mawa. The tigers live in large, grassy enclosures, but they did not like seeing visitors come too close.
Two of the bears are Asian black bears rescued in 2017 from the same zoo as Hamzeh. They were the first ones we saw. To me, their enclosures were a bit too small.
Each one has a pool and enough space to walk around, but they need a bigger space with trees. I made sure to mention this to our guide during our visit.
The other two bears are Syrian brown bears. One was rescued from a zoo in Iraq, and the other one was confiscated from a terrible private zoo in Jordan. One of them, Lula, was starting hibernation when we visited, and we were able to see her in her hay bed. She had one eye opened and was looking right at us.
Overall, we were all very impressed with the work that Al Mawa for Nature and Wildlife is doing. We would have appreciated it if the tour had included more information about the threats to wildlife in the region and ways for the general public to get involved.
I personally recommend visiting Al Mawa either on your own or with a small group of people. We must remember that these wild animals have already been through a lot of trauma and that now is their chance live in peace.
Animal Tourist Attractions to Avoid in Jordan
Working Animals at Petra and Wadi Rum
What about the other tourist sites around Jordan? Aren’t there several places like Petra, Wadi Rum and Jerash that offer encounters with animals?
In reality, once you visit Petra and Wadi Rum, you will see immediately why riding the working animals there is a bad idea.
During my trip, I saw a number of wounded animals being forced to work. I talked to their “owners” about the evident abuse, but I felt compelled to do more.
So I contacted a popular local blog and wrote a post titled Petra by Foot: How You Can Play a Key Role in the Welfare of Working Animals to tell their story.
In both Petra and Wadi Rum, I wished I could have enjoyed my time more, but seeing the scars on the donkeys faces and the injuries on the horses’ torsos and stomachs took all of my attention.
If you look closely, you too will see the marks on the camels, horses and donkeys’ skin. The camels we saw at the Wadi Rum desert had been branded on their faces.
It is quite common to see tourists riding horse carriages and donkeys in most parts of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The BBC published a recent article exposing the mistreatment of these animals.
That articles that “Horses, mules and camels carry tourists to the city and through it - some pulling carriages and carts - enduring beatings and lack of food and water as they do so.”
This is true. While I was there, I did not see one bucket of food or water in any of the waiting areas.
PETA carried out an investigation in the ancient city and issued a report in April 2018 showing ample evidence that would discourage any animal lover from riding the animals there.
As an alternative, the report promotes the use of modern forms of transportation like segways and electric bikes. Another idea would be to hire golf carts if available. We did see one from a nearby hotel, so it might be fun!
Local Efforts to Protect Wildlife in Jordan
I was amazed to learn that, not so many centuries ago, Jordan had its own wild lions and cheetahs. This is not surprising, I guess, given the fact that it is very close to Africa. Today, the only lions that live in Jordan are captive ones.
There are, however, other wild animals in this part of the world that seem to be thriving. One of them is the oryx, which is Jordan’s national animal.
These antelope can be easily recognized by their very distinctive horns, which are very pointy and hardly curled at all. The species is called the Arabian Oryx, which is the type found in the Arabian Peninsula.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Arabian Oryx was listed as endangered about a decade ago. Today, they are no longer considered to be endangered.
The IUCN estimates that there are about 80 oryx living close to the Wadi Rum desert. It is thanks to captive breeding efforts in the region that the oryx population has stabilized. Through Wild Jordan, a USAID-funded local organization, you can book a tour and have a closer encounter with these animals.
How to be an Animal-Friendly Tourist in Jordan
- Supporting a legitimate wildlife sanctuary like Al Mawa helps fund their operations and the long-term care of their rescued animals. Some of the activities that they carry out include medical treatment, transportation, enrichment and conservation. You can also follow or donate to organizations like Four Paws International that carry out emergency work in dangerous areas around the world.
- Visiting Al Mawa alone or with a small number of friends is a good practice so that the animals do not feel overwhelmed or disturbed by the presence of humans.
- If you go to Petra and Wadi Rum, keep your eyes open and be ready to take photos and share your impressions of what you witness. Your involvement will hopefully help others think twice before they ride animals there.
- Do not partake in the touristy activities that rely on the services of working animals. This will help curb the demand and the abuse. Even if their handlers tell you that the rides are free. They will!
- Working animals of Jordan and in other developing countries are usually overworked and undernourished. Their mistreatment is not apparent to most tourists, who hire them without taking a closer look at their working and health conditions.
Other Ways to Help the Animals of Jordan When You Visit
Eat vegan food in Jordan! One of the most effective steps you can take to help animals is to boycott the industries exploit them, namely the meat, dairy and egg industries.
There’s a whole array of vegan-friendly traditional foods that you can easily find when you visit Jordan. Here are my top three places that everyone should visit.
Vegan Jordan Restaurant Recommendations
If you want a taste of delicious dishes of Arabic cuisine with a twist, then you should definitely visit this popular farm-to-table vegetarian restaurant.
It is very vegan friendly, and, although vegan items are not labeled on the menu, the following items have been tested and tasted several times and will not disappoint: foul mdammas (fava bean stew), roasted cauliflower and sweet potato salad with tahini dressing, glazed carrots with fresh dill and, of course, their fresh hummus.
If you want an amazing non-alcoholic drink, then order their rosemary lemonade.
Located in the posh area of Abdoun in Amman, this vegan-owned restaurant will feel like a breath of fresh air.
If you come for lunch, order their WTF -What To-Fu Bowl. It’s a mix of wild rice, tofu, seaweed and edamame. It’s quite filling and delicious!
If breakfast is what you’re craving, then get their Açaí Bowl of Relief. It’s made with chia seed pudding, homemade berry compote, homemade chai granola and fresh blueberries. I’ve never had an açaí bowl this good anywhere else.
Just a few meters away from Pepper and Pine, this upscale restaurant offers unique dishes and is not to be missed.
One of my favorite dishes is their eggplant caprese, which by the way doesn’t look or taste like salad. It’s made with grilled eggplant slices and layered with pesto, cashew cheese and a homemade marinara sauce.
Just recently they added vegan ice creams to their menu: vanilla salted caramel and vanilla raspberry. You can have both flavors in one order! I can attest that these are the best vegan ice creams in town.
Now that you know where to go and what to avoid, let me say that if you decide to come to Jordan, you’ll be very impressed by its beautiful sites, the pleasant weather and the diversity of the food.
A visit to both Wadi Rum and Petra is a must. I don’t exaggerate when I say that you’ve probably never seen anything like these places before. They’re majestic. Breathtaking.
Just keep in mind that, by being a responsible tourist, you will create a better world for animals, in Jordan and around the world!
About the Author
Elephant Soul Crafts
Diana from The Elephant Soul blog is a photographer and blogger currently living in Amman, Jordan.
As a teenager, she dreamed of joining an organization that saved wildlife. That longing became reality when she started volunteering for Nepali non-governmental organizations that help endangered wildlife and protect nature.
After surviving the Nepal earthquake of April 2015, an unexpected change took place and Diana found solace in creativity and art. She now dedicates her time to her small business project and animal welfare activism while sipping tea and listening to her favorite podcasts.