The Establishment of the Jabal Rihane Nature Reserve

In the fall of 2000, I spoke in London about Jabal Rihane to my friend Mr. Albertino Abela who immediately took an interest in the project and sought to protect this nature reserve of South Lebanon. Mr. Abela decided in February 2001 to go there together with the vice-president of the “World Land Trust”, Mr. John A. Burton. The visit took place between February 20 and 23, 2001. Mr. John Burton wrote a report on this visit. They urged us to act as quickly as possible to protect this very important region. We decided after this visit to maintain regular and direct contacts with the Lebanese Ministry of Environment to proceed with the protection of the Jabal Rihane Nature Reserve. We also briefed the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture on our work, and Minister Ali Abdallah promised to help us in our efforts to save Jabal Rihane Nature Reserve. We discovered later that there is only one forest protection law in Lebanon. This is Law 558, which exists only in Arabic and was published by the Lebanese Government on July 24, 1996. We translated it in June 2001 at the request of Mr. Albertino Abela and Mr. John Burton. However, the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment informed us that a new law was being drafted and was to be promulgated in 2003. It will include several modern international laws for the protection of Nature Reserves.

The Lebanese Conservation Science Association, “Green Line”, visited the Jabal Rihane region in August 2000, and compiled a report providing an overview of Jabal Rihane’s natural resources.

In the summer of 2001, I circulated a petition, signed by 93% of Mlik residents, and presented it to the Ministry of the Environment to speed up its legal work. In addition, I was able to contact during my stay in Mlikh, several people and associations concerned with the protection of nature in South Lebanon.

In October 2001, I returned to Lebanon with Mr. Albertino Abela to meet the Minister of the Environment, Dr. Michel Moussa, who promised us to accelerate the work to protect the forests of Jabal Rihane. After this meeting, I went to Jabal Rihane with Mrs. Lina Yammout, from the Ministry of the Environment, to do the first analysis of the nature of Jabal Rihane. I also met for the second time with Mr. Abela in Beirut, Dr. Ghassan Ramadan-Jaradi, bird specialist in Lebanon. Following this meeting, we decided to ask Mr. Chris Naylor, member of the organization “A Rocha International”, to start a scientific study on the birds of Mlikh.

Mr. Albertino Abela decided on December 20 to create in London an international foundation for the conservation and protection of nature. He asked the botanist professor David Bellamy to chair this new organization: “Abela Conservation Foundation / Cedrus”. The organization is immediately committed to the protection of the Jabal Rihane Nature Reserve which is one of his main environmental activities.

I returned to Lebanon with Mr Albertino Abela in January 2002 with Professor David Bellamy, who had been invited by Mr Abela to visit Jabal Rihane. Professor David Bellamy himself visited Jabal Rihane on January 23 with his friend Mr. Tim Nevard. He was impressed by the diversity and richness of nature, especially in Mlikh. Professor Bellamy was also able to visit, on January 24 with Mr. Abela, the President of the Lebanese Republic, Mr. Emil Lahoud, to inform him about our work for Jabal Rihane. Another meeting was organized at the Ministry of the Environment between the Minister, Dr. Michel Moussa, and Professor Bellamy, with the presence of Mr. Albertino Abela, Mr. Tim Névard and Dr. Geroge Tohmé in order to organize our protection work. Another visit was organized on 22 January 2002 by myself for Mrs Randa Berry, who is in charge of nature protection in South Lebanon. I was very much encouraged by Mrs Berry who put at our disposal the assistance and support of her group “Amwaj for the Environment of Lebanon”.

The Minister of the Environment, Dr. Michel Moussa, declared Jabal Rihane Nature Reserve during his official visit to the region on March 3, 2002. This is a very important and indispensable step for our work. Our approach is very long. What we have done so far is only a first step in our efforts to save Jabal Rihane’s Nature Reserve.

First Scientific Research 2001-2003: Dr. Georges Tohmé and Dr. Henriette Tohmé

During January 2002, I met with Mr. Abela and Prof. Bellamy Dr. George Tohme, President of the “National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS) – Lebanon” and the President of the “Lebanese Ecological Research Center” who acceded at our request to conduct a scientific study of the fauna and flora of Jabal Rihane. Dr. G. Tohmé has informed us that the nature of Jabal Rihane has never been studied by researchers. It has even been totally neglected despite the ecological importance it represents. Therefore, scientific literature on this region does not exist yet. Our work is therefore the first serious initiative in the history of this region, in all areas, ecological, historical and archaeological. Given the necessity and the importance of this scientific research, Dr. Tohmé decided to start immediately his ecological research of the zone of Jabal Rihane thanks to the generosity of Mr. Albertino Abela who has already covered all the expenses of this research scientist.

Dr. Georges Tohmé and his wife Dr. Henriette Tohmé formed the first scientific committee to study the biodiversity of the Jabal Rihane. They wrote duirng 2004 the following report:

“In early December 2001, the Reverend Father Dr. Shafiq Abouzayd telephone me from London to propose the idea of declaring the Jabal Rihane a protected area. Since he is from Mlikh village where he was born and spent his childhood, Dr. Abouzayd showed a constant tendency to protect its environment on the basis of a scientific biodiversity background and cooperation with its inhabitants as well as the local communities of its surroundings. Accordingly, he asked me if I was willing to conduct preliminary field studies in Jarjou’a, Loueizeh, Mlikh, Kfarhouneh, Aramta and Rihane villages similar o what I had previously done, in cooperation with a team of scientists, in five protected areas. One of them (Al-Chouf Cedar Reserve) is in the proximity of Jabal Rihane.

“As my wife and I often used to conduct wildlife field studies all over Lebanon, we welcomed Dr. Abouzayd’s idea. The following day, we prospected these areas that had not been accessed by us for the last thirty years. Continuous records in these villages continued over the last two years, often twice monthly, and once a week during spring season.

“During January and February 2002, we had, in Beirut, several working meetings with Mr. Albert (Albertino) Abela and the team of his foundation (Cedrus Conservation Foundation). Mr. Abela established this foundation a few years ago. It encompasses researchers from all over the world and aims at protecting the environment. Mr. Abela, who resides in London, is one of the most enthusiastic Lebanese to introduce the Lebanon and its beautiful natural heritage to the global community. He decided to develop and implement a research study project that is of a type rarely undertaken by the private sector in the country. However, two weeks later he organized at the Ministry of Environment another working meeting, under the leadership of H. E. Dr. Michel Moussa where the major guidelines for the study were developed as a pre-requisite for and also to assist in the declaration of the Rihane as protected area.

It is worth noting that during this period of time, an intensive exchange of letters between us (myself and Mr. Abela) took place, in which I explained the programme that we intend to run as well as the terms of references for our study in order to conduct researches similar to those previously done by us in five protected areas (Al-Chouf Cedar, Horsh Ehden, Palm Islands, Tyre Beach and Aammiq Swamp) on behalf of the Ministry of Environment through the National Council for Scientific Research. The new study covered two years whereas the previous studies were extended over only one year.

Second Scientific Research 2004-2007: Dr. Ghassan Ramadan-Jeradi and the Establishment of Jabal Rihane Biosphere

Dr. Ghassan Ramadan-Jeradi led the second expedition of scientific research, and he wrote in 2007: “Research and monitoring is to be undertaken at a later stage by the follow-up appointed committee through subcontracting a management team who is responsible for the day to day management of the nature reserve. Presently, the Research Program of the Jabal Al Rihane Biosphere Reserve is temporarily ran by scientific people from the local communities of the Reserve in cooperation with a number of national and international NGOs, universities and research institutions. It focuses mainly on plants (wild relatives, landraces, culinary, aromatic, medicinal), mammals, birds and herpetofauna; and to a lesser extent on climatological and hydrological monitoring. Recognizing the role of eco-tourism in socio-economic development, individuals from the local communities are undertaking studies of the potential impact of eco-tourism development on the economy of the Rihane Villages. However, more researches and monitoring will take place in the transition zone to assist promoting sustainable resources management practices. They will focus primarily on the structure, productivity, function and efficiency of ecosystems.”

Jabal Rihane is a Biosphere Reserve

The UNESCO approved the Jabal Rihane Natural Reserve as a ‘Biosphere Reserve’ in September 2007. The aim of this ‘Biosphere Reserve’ is to promote human sustainable development, environmental tourism and scientific research in Jabal Rihane and its surrounding areas, as well as promoting awareness for humans of living in harmony with nature. See the certificate in Biosphere in “Nature Reserve”.

The Society of Jabal Rihane for the Protection of the Environment

Founded in the Lebanon during 2007, The Society of Jabal Rihane for the Protection of the Environment, is a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which aims to protect the bio-diversity of Jabal Rihane natural reserve. It is a non-profit organisation, approved on 11th August 2007 (Edict 17533) by the Lebanese President Mr. Emil Lahoud, the Prime Minister Mr. Fouad Sanyurah, the Minister of Finance Mr. Jihad Az‘our, the Minister of Interior Affairs, the Minister of Tourism Mr. Joseph Sarkis, the Minister of Industry, and the Minister of the Environment. The decree was published in the Official Newspaper of the Lebanese Republic on 1st of November 2007, page 7212, decree 230.

The headquarters of the Society of Jabal Rihane Reserve is based in Mlikh village (Jabal Rihane, south Lebanon.

The Society of Jabal Rihane for the Protection of the Environment is planning many activities outlined in its By-laws. They will be translated from Arabic into English during 2018.

See more information in “Nature Reserve”.