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Location Jordan, Zarqa
Central coordinates 36o 51.21' East  31o 51.22' North
IBA criteria A1, A3, A4i, A4iii, B1i, B2
Area 21,700 ha
Altitude 500 - 520m
Year of IBA assessment 2000

Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature



Site description The only permanent, natural wetland in the Jordanian desert, 85 km east of Amman, and one of very few such sites in the Arabian peninsula. A (formerly) permanent, spring-fed marshland near the village of South Azraq (Azraq Wetland Reserve, 31°50'N 36°50'E, 1,255 ha) with a large, adjacent, seasonal playa-lake to the south-east (Qa al Azraq, 30°50'N 36°53'E, c.6,000 ha). The site also includes some artesian pools with associated marshland (31°51'N 36°50'E, 50 ha) and fishpools (31°49'N 36°48'E, 100 ha).

Until heavily degraded in recent years (see 'Conservation issues'), the Azraq Wetland Reserve was a flat area of pools, marshes, water meadows and silt dunes. Plant cover was very varied, including dense stands of Juncus, Carex, Typha, Scirpus, Cyperus and Arundo in the wetland, and bushes of Nitraria and Tamarix on the silt dunes. Similar marshland also formerly occurred around the springs at the village of North Azraq.

Qa al Azraq is a low-lying, enclosed basin which is seasonally flooded by c.10 wadis after winter rains over a catchment area of c.13,000 km2. A temporary, shallow, freshwater lake (max. depth 1.25 m) is formed, with a flat, muddy margin of up to 35 km circumference and scattered islands (the mounds of dry-season saltworkings). The water never overspills into the adjacent freshwater marsh of the Wetland Reserve, and the lake does not drain into and re-charge the underlying aquifer, instead remaining for several months (good aquatic invertebrate populations develop during this time) while becoming increasingly brackish as it dries out to form a siltflat, usually by mid-May. The basin is barren of vegetation when dry, except for salt-tolerant herbs (Halopeplis, Halocnemum) around the edges.

The artesian pools are an variable area of standing water of variable extent, fed by a small artesian borehole drilled in 1963 and still flowing. There is a small area of Tamarix bushes surrounded by damp to wet meadow/marshland with grass and other low vegetation. The fishpools were recently excavated in low-relief, silt desert on the edge of Qa al Azraq, with muddy shore and islands, fringed with reeds Phragmites when water levels are not high.

The oasis is a major crossroads for highways running between Amman, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and Iraq, and the level of human activity is high, there being two large settlements, North Azraq (formerly called Druze) and South Azraq (formerly Shishan), as well as a military base. The oasis is a major social and economic resource to Jordan, being one of the largest and most exploited sources of water for human consumption in the country. Cultivation is extensive in former silt desert surrounding the wetlands, irrigated from private wells. Qa al Azraq supports a substantial salt industry; regulated wildfowl hunting occurs in winter. Large numbers of sheep, goats and camels are watered and grazed in the remains of the marshland at Azraq Wetland Reserve and the artesian pools. Small-scale fish farming occurs at the fishpools.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna winter  1991-1992  3,490 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca winter  1993  3 individuals  medium  B2  Vulnerable 
Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata resident  1975  poor  A1  Vulnerable 
Demoiselle Crane Anthropoides virgo winter  1993  60 individuals  poor  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Common Crane Grus grus winter  1991-1993  2,000-2,500 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus breeding  1993  300-465 breeding pairs  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta breeding  1993  60-300 individuals  good  B1i  Least Concern 
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus breeding  1993  2,000 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii breeding  1993  A3  Least Concern 
Spotted Sandgrouse Pterocles senegallus resident  1993  A3  Least Concern 
Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius breeding  1993  A3  Least Concern 
Thick-billed Lark Rhamphocoris clotbey resident  1993  A3  Least Concern 
Temminck's Lark Eremophila bilopha resident  1993  A3  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  1991-1992  20,000 individuals  poor  A4iii   

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Azraq Oasis Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 7,372 protected area contained by site 7,372  
Azraq Wetland Wetland Reserve 1,200 protected area contained by site 1,200  

Habitats

IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Artificial - terrestrial   2%
Desert   31%
Wetlands (inland)   53%
Shrubland   14%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture minor
Notes: Rangeland
fisheries/aquaculture minor
Notes: Fisheries/aquaculture
nature conservation and research major
Notes: Wildlife conservation/research
tourism/recreation major
Notes: Tourism/Recreation
other minor
Notes: Other: Small-scale salt-extraction
hunting minor

Other biodiversity Mammals: Canis lupus (V); Caracal caracal (rare) and Gazella gazella (V) are thought to be recently extinct. Reptiles: Varanus griseus (rare) occurred in the surrounding desert, at least formerly. Formerly the Wetland Reserve supported a relatively rich fauna and flora, including important and highly isolated or endemic populations of fish, invertebrate and plant species; many species may not have survived the ongoing degradation of the marsh.

Acknowledgements Data-sheet compiled by Ian J. Andrews.

References Andrews (1991), Conder (1981a,b, 1982), Jones and Clarke (1990), Mountfort (1965), Nelson (1973, 1985), Wallace (1982, 1983).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Azraq. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/04/2014

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