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Range improvement and
development of a wildlife
reserve in the Syrian steppe

D. Williamson

Douglas Williamson is Forestry Officer
(Wildlife and Protected Area Management)
in the Forest Conservation, Research and
Education Service, Forest Resources
Division, FAO.

Since February 1996 FAO and the Syrian Government have been implementing a project, funded by the Italian Government, for range improvement and wildlife management in the degraded Syrian steppe.

The sheep flocks and camel herds of the steppe (which covers 55 percent of the Syrian Arab Republic) used to meet all their nutritional needs from the natural range, but owing to its degraded condition it was providing, at the project outset, as little as 20 percent of the needs of the greatly increased sheep population. The sheep were getting most of their food from crop residues and supplementary feeding with subsidized barley.

To enable the rangelands to provide a much greater proportion of the food needs of the nation's livestock, the project has been working to introduce modern range management. Methods include a participatory approach to engage with local range users, training of national technical staff, demonstration of effective range improvement techniques and the development of an environmental monitoring system. Substantial success has been achieved in all of these areas.

National extension staff have attended workshops on the participatory approach and overseas training courses and have worked intensively with local range users under the supervision of a national extension expert, thus developing skills in participatory rural appraisal, awareness raising and enterprise development. National technical officers have received training in range management in the United States and have gained practical skills through participation in range improvement activities including reseeding of rangeland with native plants and the development and operation of an environmental monitoring system.

Substantial success has also been achieved in the wildlife management component of the project, which was, if anything, even more urgently needed than the range improvement component. Up to the 1950s gazelles were common on the Syrian steppe, but since people have had access to vehicles and modern firearms gazelles have been virtually exterminated. There is no living memory of oryx in the area, but there is picturesque evidence for their presence in the form of a 2 000-year-old stone statue outside the museum in Palmyra.

Wildlife activities are based in the Talila reserve east of Palmyra, which was established by the Syrian Government in 1991. The main areas of activity have been staff training, biodiversity inventory, reintroduction of gazelles and oryx and the formulation and implementation of management plans. National staff have received practical on-the-job training in biodiversity inventory, animal capture, animal care and reserve management. Local training courses have been given on computer skills, wildlife ecology and veterinary aspects of wildlife management. The national veterinary officer working with the project attended a three-month overseas training course on captive breeding and reintroduction. Through the reintroduction of gazelles into the Talila reserve, the national staff have gained much practical experience in wildlife management.

The range improvement and wildlife management components have been integrated through the development of a joint plan for the grazing of sheep and camels in the Talila reserve. An agreement with local camel owners gives them access to grazing in the Talila reserve at critical times of the year.

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