An isolated tract of huge, precipitous, sandstone and granite mountains, ranging up to 1,754 m (Jabal Rum, the highest point in Jordan), separated from each other by flat, sandy 'corridor'-wadis (at 800 m), and surrounded by a desert of extensive siltflats and mobile dunes. The predominant desert vegetation is a scanty shrub-steppe of Haloxylon, Anabasis, Retama, Artemisia and Acacia tortilis bushes. Amygdalus arabicus bushes are common in sandy wadis and in gorges leading into the mountains. Vegetation on the high and inaccessible peaks of the mountains is poorer than in wadis, including scattered Acacia tortilis and Juniperus trees, which also occur along seepage lines in Wadi Rum at the base of Jabal Rum, together with patchy, remnant vegetation of Pistacia, Ficus, Olea and Phoenix palms. The main land-uses are nomadic pastoralism (sheep, goats and camels), a Ministry of Agriculture irrigation project on the siltflats (centred on Disi and Abu Suwana) and 'wilderness tourism'.
See box for key species. An unusually varied assemblage of desert and mountain birds. As well as species listed below, possible or known breeders include Circaetus gallicus, Buteo rufinus, Aquila chrysaetos (outside the Reserve), Aquila verreauxii, Hieraaetus fasciatus, Falco pelegrinoides, Alectoris chukar, Bubo ascalaphus, Pycnonotus xanthopygos, Oenanthe lugens, O. leucopyga, Nectarinia osea, Corvus rhipidurus and Emberiza striolata. Quite large numbers of migrating Buteo buteo have been seen irregularly (max. 100, April). Two key species, now apparently extinct, are the globally threatened Chlamydotis undulata (formerly a rare winter visitor) and the regionally threatened Gypaetus barbatus (formerly a rare resident).
Establishment of Wadi Rum Wildlife Reserve started in 1989 and is continuing, although it has not yet been gazetted; re-introduction of Oryx leucoryx is planned. Grazing pressure on the desert steppe vegetation is very heavy and pivot-irrigated agriculture using fossil groundwater is expanding on the siltflats (wheat, alfalfa, vegetables). Although the difficult terrain has tended to protect against over-hunting of larger animals, the increasing and unregulated off-road vehicle traffic due to tourism is degrading and disturbing sensitive fauna and flora locally, e.g. on sand-dunes.
Data-sheet compiled by Ian J. Andrews, with comments by Dr Marco Masseti.
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Hisma Basin - Rum. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 09/08/2022.