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Since about 30 to 40 years ago, trucks have replaced camels for Bedouin transportation.

Photo M. Marzot

Without the support of nationals the project would not have worked; close involvement with the local people has been a must since the project’s inception.


The range of people with direct and indirect interests in the project is considerable, and includes: government officials in the Ministry of Agriculture in Damascus, including the Minister and Deputy Minister, government officials in Palmyra, members of the Peasant Union, residents of Palmyra, members of the Bedouin cooperatives project and nomadic Bedouin pastoralists who customarily graze their animals in and around Al Talila.

Thanks to their involvement in one way or another in the project activities, a number of local people made the move from indifference to awareness.


Progress “from indifference towards ecological awareness” is evident in a series of “conversations” or informal interviews with three local people who participated in the project’s fauna surveys.

To ensure that answers were spontaneous and sincere, questions were put to the interviewees during the course of their everyday activities, and recorded later.

Trainee Mahmud Abdallah engaged in photo-documenting the occurrence of fauna within Al Badia.

Photo G. Serra

Mahmud Abdallah

Mahmud Abdallah, Palmyrean, 44 years old, has been working within Al Talila Reserve since its establishment in 1991. Despite being officially only a driver, since the beginning of the project the international staff of the project have all relied on him for assistance in the field. Mahmud has constantly demonstrated his profound interest in the natural world, together with an outstanding ability to detect and identify fauna in the field, and a talent for nature photography. He is one of the trainees who has learned most from the Palmyra project, and will become one of the first two rangers in the reserve, along with Gazy Al Qaim, another project trainee.

Mahmud, you said once that you have always felt attracted by nature. How has working in a protected area influenced your feelings about nature?

It has been an unforgettable experience for me. But even in my previous job I was - although in a very different way - in contact with nature. I was a military pilot for two and a half years, and when flying I was impressed by the variety of the landscapes I saw from the plane. I was especially impressed to see the north-western corner of the Syrian Arab Republic, so green and with so much water compared to Palmyra, scattered with houses looking so different to ours (Palmyrean houses, Ndr). I also took photos while flying; I love natural landscapes, much more than areas inhabitated by a lot of people. I also prefer women who look natural, and do not use make-up...

Monitor Lizard (Varanus griseus) is the largest reptile currently inhabiting Al Badia.

Photo M. Abdallah

How has the experience of working in Al Talila changed your way of thinking about ecological problems?

Before working in Al Talila I heard several older people, including my father, say that over the past 40 years the landscape and the occurrence of wildlife have dramatically changed within Al Badia. Working in the reserve gave me the opportunity to see with my own eyes the extent of the disaster.

Al Talila reserve boundary showing the difference in vegetation cover between the inside (right) and the outside (left) of the protected area.

Photo G. Serra

What were the best moments you experienced during these 11 years of working in the reserve?

I will never forget when I first saw the gazelles and the oryx, which had just arrived for release on the reserve. I had never seen these animals before, only heard about them from my father and older people. I still remember the first day of field work with Jaan (FAO Wildlife Expert G. Serra, Ndr), when he showed us a Beshak (Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus, Ndr) along the road to Al Talila. Learning how to recognize birds has been a wonderful discovery for me. It has been like unveiling a new dimension which I had previously ignored. Nobody in Palmyra cares for birds which do not have a tangible value as money or food (few species in total, Ndr). Of course I will never forget the first time we saw the small colony of nuq (Bald Ibis, Ndr), the culmination of two years of intensive surveying of wildlife and birds. After that hard two months search, and after having heard so much talk about it from Jaan, when we first saw these strange-looking birds I started jumping and kissing Ghazy (Mahmud’s colleague, Ndr), as if I were a child.

How has Al Talila changed during the 11 years you have been working in it?

The most impressive difference I have noticed is the vegetation cover. Eleven years ago the vegetation was very sparse because shrubs were uprooted for firewood, and there was constant overgrazing. Nowadays the vegetation cover is really amazing. I have also noticed that when I started working in Al Talila the sandstorms were more intense, and the visibility during these storms was much lower than nowadays. I believe this is because now the shrubs somehow create an obstacle for the sand when it blows. I think the recently completed Environmental Education Centre (EEC) for the Al Talila reserve will be instrumental in teaching our children about environmental problems.

What could be done to halt the destruction of Al Badia?

First of all I would invest a lot in raising the awareness of the people about environmental degradation. Everybody needs to know about this; it is also especially important that children learn about nature in the schools as well.

Convolvulus arvensis.

What else?

I would try to invest a lot in setting up a kind of “environmental police” with a mandate for patrolling Al Badia on the lookout for environmental abuse, especially illegal hunting, which does a great deal of damage.

Have you ever “encountered” any interesting teaching about nature in the Holy Koran?

I read once that “during the Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca, Ndr) you are not allowed to hunt or even cut a branch for cleaning your teeth”.

This is good teaching, I believe, because it is like saying that you can use natural resources responsibly only around your home.

Perhaps because when you are travelling in another country you do not care about depleting the resources, because it is not really your home. If resources like plants and animals do not belong to you, then you think you do not have to care about whether you damage them or not.

Is there any relation between the increase in the population of the Syrian Arab Republic and the degradation of nature?

Yes, I believe this is one of the main causes of the degradation of nature. Once it was different: the Bedu (Bedouin nomads, Ndr) were satisfied with fewer sheep, it was more like a subsistence game, not a longing for an unlimited increase in the herds, like we see today. In general terms, more people means more sheep are needed, more water, more hunters etc., etc.

Mechanized transportation of sheep has become one of the main causes of the overexploitation of Al Badia during the past 30 to 40 years.

Photo G. Serra

Caterpillar of butterfly Sphingidae found in the Palmyra oasis.

Photo M. Abdallah

How do your children react to nature?

I think I am transmitting my feelings to them, especially if I compare them to other children. For instance, the other day a grasshopper flew towards the light in our house. My son Ali saved it from the hands of another child who wanted to kill it. He said it was haram (a sin, Ndr) to kill it.

How much influence do you have over how your family thinks about nature?

Sometimes I talk with my sons and my relatives about nature. I try to explain the importance of small animals like insects within the cycle of nature.

How do you feel about the work done over the past two years by project wildlife team in relation to biodiversity conservation?

I believe these are important seeds we have planted, and in the future we will harvest benefits in terms of nature conservation, inshallah. For example, if we produced a booklet on wildlife, a cheap one I mean, people will have the chance for the first time ever to understand that not all snakes are dangerous, and that there are some birds which are very rare and need protection.

What do you think should be done about the falcon hunting?

I think a limit should be set on yearly catches. But this is difficult to organize, and would create jealousy among different hunters, so it might be easier to set a ban, like for five years. Nobody can deny that 30 years ago there were many more falcons around, and that they have become a very rare sight. A five year ban could make a big contribution to the recovery of their numbers.

In general terms, what measures should be taken in relation to hunting of threatened and rare species?

I think this is a big problem. I don’t believe it is easy to explain to hunters that there are rare and threatened birds that should not be shot. I guess the best we can do is to start a conservation education programme aimed at the children. Patrolling and enforcing is crucial; police involvement in the protection of nature could make a real difference. For instance, through effective enforcement of hunting regulations, it was possible to save the gazelles in the Jezel mountains (some 40 km northwest of Palmyra).

What about producing a booklet with illustrations?

I am not sure it would work well. It could even produce negative effects... sometimes when I showed my bird identification field guide to hunters I saw them enumerating all the birds that they had killed in the past as they recognized them in the illustrations. So producing a list of plates for identification of threatened birds might even stimulate them to find these birds and kill them, as a kind of senseless trophy.

We have seen that Bedouins use poisoned carcasses to control (exterminate?) wolves, and pesticides are used in agriculture. What is your opinion about this issue?

My grandfather used to say that in the past, the wolf was like a “doctor” for the flocks of sheep; it would make a selection based on health, eating the sickest and weakest individuals in the flock. In this way flocks were healthier and their size was kept down. Those days wolves used to control sheep; nowadays Bedu herders control wolves, but kill many other carnivores in the process. It is really perverse: all this poison put into the environment sooner or later will end up on our tables. Killing insects is very bad too, it will affects plants and birds etc. We learnt from project that everything in nature is linked like in a chain, isn’t it?

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopter ruber) is a spectacular passage migrant and wintering species of Al Badia.

Photo M. Abdallah

What do you think about water extraction in Al Badia?

I believe this is a very serious problem. We risk having no water at all sooner or later, like for the inhabitants of Qarietin (village a 100 km west of Palmyra, Ndr).

There are too many wells dug at low cost; almost everybody has his own private well, and can extract as much water as he wants.

The harm produced by the over-extraction of water lies in the fact that the fresh and salt water from seasonal salt lakes (sabkha) is mixed together. Since last year authorities are controlling the number of well inside the oasis, this is good. But outside in the desert there are still plenty of uncontrolled wells.

One of the main goals of Palmyra project is the rehabilitation of rangelands through reseeding of native plants.

And what about Sabkha Al Moh (seasonally flooded salt lake south of Pamyra)?

This sabkha is at serious risk of destruction. During the fauna surveys we realized how important the sabkha is for wintering and migrant waterbirds, but it is also important for people making a living from the extraction of salt. It is a big problem; I heard the Government would like to set up a reserve there...

What will the local community feel about the possible sabkha reserve?

It is similar to what happened at Al Talila. If the people around the reserve are not happy and hate it, it is impossible to conserve nature. This same situation arose with the re-seeding around Al Talila. The local people were taking care of the reseeded areas when suddenly people from outside came with many sheep and destroyed everything.

What can Al Talila contribute to the conservation of nature in the Syrian Arab Republic?

Al Talila is like a beautiful book that can be shown to our children, to make them realize, by comparing it with the barren land outside of the reserve, what they are missing in terms of nature. Showing them the animals and plants of Al Talila will raise their awareness about the importance of protecting nature.

Adeeb Assaed

Adeeb Assaed, hunter from Palmyra.

Photo G. Serra

Adeeb Assaed is a 48-year-old hunter from Palmyra. He has been collaborating with the project wildlife team since the inception of the survey programme, making a remarkable contribution to its success. He made possible the discovery of rare wildlife, including the N. Bald Ibis. Adeeb loves hunting, especially falcon hunting (more properly, falcon capturing). Every year he spends two to three months in the Hamad desert, 100 km south of Palmyra, close to the Iraqi border for this purpose. He knows Bedouin culture and their traditions very well, because his father traded with them (and became very respected among them, a kind of sheikh), and also because he has spent long periods of his life out in the desert hunting. As he started hunting so young, he is one of the youngest in Palmyra to have witnessed the destruction of Al Badia from the very beginning. Interestingly, due to his involvement in project surveys, we were able to put him in contact with European birdwatchers on several occasions. These birdwacthing trips to the Hamad desert were a success both for the birdwatchers and for Adeeb who accompanied them. The idea of tourists ready to spend money for watching wildlife and nature was completely new to the locals, and the news spread quickly within Al Badia.

When did you start caring about nature?

When I was five years old my father sent me for a week to the camp of the sheikh of the Sba’a tribe in the Hamad. The sheik was there hunting with falcons, and I accompanied him for the whole week. From that time I started loving the Hamad and falcons. I remember we ate grilled jerboa (Allactaga euphratica, Jaculus jaculus). Eighteen years later, during which time we never met again, the sheikh recognized me one night when I entered his tent in the Saudi Arabian desert.

The Asiatic Jackal (Canis aureus syriacus) is one of the carnivores occurring within Al Talila reserve.

Photo M. Abdallah

What did the Hamad look like 40 years ago, at the time you went to the sheikh?

The landscape was completely different, there was a lot of thick and high shrubby vegetation, with plenty of antelopes and houbaras around (Houbara Bustard, Chlamidotis undulata, the preferred bird of prey of the Arab hunters because of its reportedly delicious meat, listed as a threatened species on the IUCN 2000 Red List, Ndr). Really, a marvellous landscape compared to the present barren one. Gazelles were still seen some 20 years ago around Palmyra.

What happened to the Hamad after that time?

Uncontrolled increase in the numbers of sheep, cutting of shrubs for firewood, an increase in motorized vehicles, and barley cultivation. The houbara has disappeared not because of hunting but because of habitat destruction.

Do you think Hamad will ever recover from this disaster?

I believe the situation is actually reversible. With protection and rehabilitation, the Hamad could revert to its original state in five years, I guess. For instance there is a strip of land that was saved from the disaster due to military-security reasons; it is the one running immediately adjacent to the Iraqi border. This strip is still quite pristine. Also, there are about 300 gazelles still surviving in a rocky and unaccessible basaltic harrat on the border with Jordan.

Convolvulus arvensis.

What do you like about the Hamad desert?

Whenever I go there I feel like a king - the open skies, waking up early, the scent of the desert flowers and the birdsongs while driving in the early morning, the talks in the tent at night. You know, I was the fifth Palmyrean to go hunting in Hamad, many years ago, just because not so many people could maintain or afford a proper car to drive up to there and come back in one piece.

Do you think you are a different kind of hunter compared to the others?

I believe so. I think I have a moral concern most of the others lack.

Cape Hare (Lepus capensis syriacus) is overhunted in Al Badia.

Photo G. Serra

In what way?

I would never kill birds like eagles just for the sake of killing for sport [birds with no commercial value]. My target is clear: I go for falcons and houbara and a few others. I never kill birds close to their nest. I have always refused to accompany rich hunters into Al Badia despite the big money they offered me.

You seem to have always been completely fascinated by falcons, like most Arab hunters. Can you explain why?

Because they are wonderful and magical when they fly, especially while hunting.

They are the incarnation of the perfect hunters: swift, strong and brave. I still remember when I was five years old, the first time I saw an Abiad or Ther Gazal (Gyrfalcon, Falco rusticolus), white morph, very rare and the most valuable falcon (reportedly paid US$160 000 three years ago in Al Jazira, Ndr). It was a splendid creature, white with a huge breast; I saw it in the wild only once, in 1980. I chased it but it flew through the border with Iraq, and so I had to stop there. I never saw it again.

Rare Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraaëtus fasciatus) is a passage migrant raptor.

Photo G. Serra

What other birds do you like most?

The houbara. Because of... the meat.

What do you think should be done about the falcon hunting?

I think this particular kind of hunting should still be allowed. It is very important for our economy.

Don’t you think the number of hunters has increased too much during the past 10-20 years? Older people say the falcons have dramatically decreased during this period of time.

It is true, but on the other hand I believe this kind of hunting is still sustainable.

These falcons usually fly so high in the sky while migrating, a kilometre or so in height. So, we have access to only a small portion of the whole migrating population. Moreover, this year the Amir of the United Arab Emirates released hundreds of falcons (peregrines and saker falcons) into the wild, previously used for falconry by rich gulf hunters.

I guess other sheikhs will follow his example. This could be a considerable contribution in making the whole practice sustainable.

Adeeb, why do you like nature?

Because I feel happy in it. I could not live in a big city, surrounded by many huge concrete buidlings. My ideal situation is just to live in a tent in the middle of the desert.

Have you changed your mind about nature since you came into contact with the project wildlife team?

Yes, going around with Jaan [FAO Wildlife Expert G. Serra, Ndr] in the desert has made me aware of the problems of nature more than ever, in a way it has opened my eyes. Now I really understand the extent to which nature is threatened. Sometimes when I think of the way it looked a long time ago when I started hunting I become so sad...I wish I could do something.

Like what?

For instance, I would be ready to set up an association of Palmyrean hunters for the protection of nature. I would be keen to prevent hunting illegalities. After I met the project wildlife team I became interested in nature in general; I started to watch programmes on nature on satellite channels. I have transmitted this interest to my children. They know exactly when the nature programmes are broadcast.

Have you changed the way you hunt over the years?

I swear that if I see a houbara now, however much I love its meat, I would not kill it. Now I know how few of these birds are left. I am sure that many other hunters would do the same, if only they knew which birds of Al Badia are threatened.

What could be done to recover from this situation?

1. Stop destructive hunting by rich people.

2. Stop the new destructive hunting practice of catching jerboa [Euphrates jerboa (Allactaga euphratica) and Lesser jerboa (Jaculus jaculus)], by the thousands for traditional medicine (again fuelled by foreign demand), because they are the only food left for snakes, foxes and kestrels (following the disappearance of the ungulates).

3. Stop the recent, uncontrolled practice of trapping Hajel (Chukar, Alectoris chukar) in the mountains on a massive scale. In general terms, I believe at this point we should put a real ban on hunting for a certain number of years.

I would be the first to support it if everybody else really respected it.

What about teaching the new generation to respect nature?

Yes I think it is important, but I am afraid that if we wait for them to become adult it will be too late. They will never know and enjoy nature like our generation did, but only a barren desert. It is time to act now, otherwise everything will be gone.

Do you think there is any teaching about nature in the Holy Koran? What is the relation between Islam and nature?

Sunlight playing on the surface of the Palmyra mountains.

Photo G. Serra

I think the Holy Koran is very clear about the need to respect the life of non human creatures.

It is true that we were put by Allah in a special place within the kingdom of life. But the Koran says that if you are not directly in danger or hungry, you do not have to kill even an ant. Which means that life in general is the creation of Allah, and must thus be respected. I read once in the holy book: “every bird flying with wings is another being like you”.

Do you think there is any relation between rapid population increase in the Syrian Arab Republic and degradation of nature?

It is true that the current birth rate is dangerous; the size of the country is always the same, while the number of people is rapidly increasing. Our sons are at risk of being poor and jobless. Natural resources available to them will be less and degraded, for instance, key resources for desert areas, such as water.

What do you think about the work of the project wildlife team over the past two years in relation to nature conservation?

I think it is very important because now we have no excuses for not taking care of nature. It is much degraded, but still there are margins for recovery. People, including hunters, used to say there is no wildlife left within Al Badia. We have shown that this is not completely true; there is still valuable wildlife around, like the nuq (N. Bald Ibis). We have a sort of last chance to save this scattered remaining wildlife. The wildlife team has produced an inventory of fauna - most of which we did not know even existed - which is essential as a start for taking care of it.

In general, what measures should be taken in relation to hunting, to ensure the protection of threatened and rare species?

We should continue to organize meetings with the hunters as we have done during the past two years, giving them hints on field identification of threatened species, and trying to explain to them why it is important to protect and avoid killing these species.

What about producing a booklet with plates for identification?

This would be really a great contribution to conserve our threatened wildlife.

False Cobra (Malpolon moilensis), an interesting and common colubrid snake with orange irid.

Photo M. Abdallah

What do you think will happen to the traditional way of living of Bedouins?

In a way at this point, despite being sentimentally linked to them, I hope that the Bedouins will all become sedentary, and that their traditional way of life will cease. In fact, their traditional way of life already finished some 20 to 30 years ago, when they started using trucks and raising sheep instead of camels. Before that their way of life was sustainable; afterwards, they simply started to destroy nature. Today there are herders with thousands of sheep. I know one in Hamad that owns 10 000 sheep.

All this is not sustainable anymore. Destroying Al Badia, they have destroyed the chance to continue with their traditional way of life.

But will you be sad about the disappearance of the Bedu from Al Badia?

Of course I will. I have spent most of my life with them, and most of my best friends are Bedouins. But we have to recognize that they are destroying Al Badia, it is not under their control anymore. Since I love Al Badia, I say that I hope that the Bedu will stop raising their herds. I say this with some pain in my heart of course. For the same reason, although I love hunting, I would be willing and ready to stop hunting - if everybody would agree or if the government decides so.

What do you think about the migratory birds? Do you also believe there is no need to protect them because they do not belong to any specific country?

This argument is nonsense, if the hunters believe this, they will destroy everything.

How can we explain this problem to them?

I think a hunter association for conservation would help, because there is a need to discuss this with the hunters and make them aware. I would put it this way: your grandfathers adopted a wise management system for the water in the oasis. Every garden had a limited and controlled amount of water from the only spring available. In this way the spring Ifqa of Palmyra has survived for centuries. Only recently this wise system was disrupted, everybody sinks a personal well inside their own garden, and everybody has started pumping as much water as he wants. The historical Ifqa spring of the Palmyra oasis was depleted and dried up [after being used for centuries and perhaps millennia]. And the depth of the water table is going down year after year... I would make a comparison between the flow of the water across several gardens of the oasis and the flow of migrating birds across different countries. Every country has to establish a limited access to this international resource, like our grandfathers did with the flow of water through the gardens.

The typical flat tent of Bedouins.

Photo M. Abdallah

What is your opinion about the use of poisoned carcasses for controlling wolves?

It is really dangerous, and we should try to stop it.

Why it is dangerous?

Because you never know where this poison will end up. I am so worried about the vegetables and the meat that I give to my children. I know that pesticides are used in quantities in agriculture, as are also medicines for livestock. I worry about buying vegetables; I only buy vegetables for my children directly from the producers. In Palmyra the number of people with cancer has increased a lot during recent years.

What do you expect will be the contribution of ecotourism in nature conservation?

Well, if in the future I am able to earn some money for my family, this will be a big incentive for me to care about nature. But now, with war threatening it is not the best time to talk about tourism...

Project trainees as ecoguides during a field lesson in bird identification.

Photo G. Serra

A pair of Bedouin pastoralists from Al Badia.

Photo M. Abdallah

Trainee Ahmed Jeiber Abdallah at his home at the outskirts of Palmyra.

Photo G. serra

Ahmed Abdallah

Ahmed Abdallah was born 27 years ago in the desert south of the Al Talila reserve. His family, who belong to the Beni Haled tribe, became poor a few years after his birth, and were forced to sedentarize on the outskirts of Palmyra. They are still involved with sheep raising and marketing, but not on a nomadic basis. They do not like to be sedentarized in the town, and they long to go back to live as nomads in the desert, raising their sheep.

On the basis of his motivation, interest, curiosity and economic condition, Ahmed was selected by the project wildlife team as one of the cooperative members to be trained as ecoguides for the reserve. The results of his training were excellent, including proficiency in basic English. Despite having always been a shepherd, he is deeply attracted to study, and nurtures the dream of working with ecotourists in the reserve in the future, and possibly belonging to the staff of the reserve.

So you will soon complete your training as an ecoguide, with a second course in English, this time at the British Council in Damascus.... How do you feel about this training, Ahmed?

It has been a great opportunity for me. But I feel worried that I will not be employed in the reserve ... you never know. Since I will be the first Syrian eco-guide, the hiring process will probably take a long time. You know, once I was satisfied by working with my sheep, but now I would only like to work with nature, wildlife and tourists... if this will not happen I will be very sad.

What do you think about the status of nature in the Syrian Arab Republic?

If I look at the Hamad nowadays I see a real desert, everything was destroyed in quite a short time.

Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is a colourful and gregarious passage migrant species of the area.

Photo M. Abdallah

What do you think were the main causes?

The number of sheep has increased far too much, the Bedu [Bedouins, Ndr] continue grazing the range too early every year, and there are too many cars around. The barley cultivation, though recently banned, had caused huge damage to the rangelands of Al Badia.

What would you do to halt the destruction?

I would employ Mahmud [Mahmud Abdallah, the first interviewed, Ndr] as ranger and myself as ecoguide in the Al Talila reserve...

Ok, well done; and what else, more in general terms?

I would build schools in the Hamad desert, close to the wells, where the Bedu have to converge in order to get the water. It is too sad and a shame that the majority of Bedu children don’t know even how to write their name. This happens even in my family....

Would this be beneficial also for the sake of nature conservation?

I think so: these children will be adults one day. If we teach them to respect nature today, they will care about it tomorrow.

What about the growth of the population within the country?

I believe we should stop with this, it is time to start controlling the population increase. We should start to use prophylactics. In our family, for instance, we are eight brothers and sisters, but we are a small family compared to others; the average can be 15. If we continue like this Palmyra will become huge, it will stretch to Arak [a village some 40 Km north-east of Palmyra]. Where will we find the food - or, an even more worrying question - where will we find the water (let’s never forget we are in the middle of the desert)?

The village of Palmyra (Tadmor in Arabic): past and present.

Photo G. Serra

Haloxylon salicornicum.

What is the best day of your training you can remember?

I will never forget when I first saw gazelles and oryx in Al Talila reserve. It was the first time for us. I still remember that Chiff Chaff [nickname of one of the four trainees, Ndr] was crying with emotion. It was for me like seeing herds of beautiful girls... The fact is that I have always read poetry, and the eyes of the women in Arabian literature, are usually associated with the eyes of antelopes. I remember this short poem for instance: “I have seen the eyes of maha [Arabian Oryx, Oryx leucoryx] between Resafa and the bridge (Der-ez-zoir, Ndr), they brought me some love; from where this love comes I do not know...”.

Other memories of the training period?

When Jaan [FAO Wildlife Expert, G. Serra, Ndr] came to my house asking “guess what we have found...?” And I said straight away: “al nuq (N. Bald Ibis)!” Uallah, we have spent so much time within Abu Rigimin mountains searching for these birds. Actually, I thought that it was a crazy search and that we would have never found them... Most Bedu even did not know or have forgotten the name of this bird.

Ottoman fortress overlooking Palmyra and its surroundings.

Photo G. Serra

What does nature represent for you?

You know, I was born in the desert. I like to be in the desert with my animals, enjoy the huge sky and the silence. I do not like the life in the village, with all the noise.

What do you think of the early grazing problem?

I think this not a big problem, as long as the soil is not wet. When it is not wet the sheep just browse the upper part of the grass, leaving the part underground which can grow again. The real problem is the number of sheep, which is too great nowadays. They should sell part of their sheep.

What about the problem of uprooting shrubs for firewood?

I think the best way would be that the Government promote the use of gas, through setting a low fixed price. Bedouins nowadays travel with trucks and go regularly to buy provisions in the suq at Palmyra, and other villages. The problem is that the suq sellers set the prices too high. That’s why I believe the Government should intervene in this matter.

Do you think we will ever succeed in our efforts to raise the awareness of people regarding the importance of not killing all snakes indiscriminately?

I think it is a difficult task but slowly and patiently we can change the opinion of people. A week ago, for instance, I was talking with some friends in front of the fire about snakes, explaining that only two out of 12 are really dangerous. One of my friends claimed that this is not true. So I told them what I have seen with my eyes. That day that we found a colubrid snake and you caught it with your hands. Then while you were playing with it, it suddenly managed to bite you. I told them that I saw some blood coming out from the two holes of your finger. I told them that Jaan is living proof of what we are saying about snakes.

Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax hoogstraali) is an inoffensive and beautiful colubrid snake of Al Badia.

Photo M. Abdallah

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