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Smugglers eye ‘prize’ of 1,000-year-old tree

Olea Europaea olive tree is tracked down for its financial and symbolic value

By Bernard Ellouk - Aug 02,2017 - Last updated at Aug 02,2017

Oleas are often bought by luxury resorts located in Jordan or in neighbouring countries, who place them as a front entrance decoration, according to a Ranger (Photo by Amjad Ghsoun)

AMMAN — “Imagine the financial value of a 1,000-year-old tree,” said Mohammad Al Rababah, professor of natural resources ecology and management at the University of Jordan. 

Unfortunately, some already have. Large construction equipment, often used for lugging giant rocks and mounds of dirt, has been used by suspected smugglers to move a 1,000-year-old Olea Europaea olive tree after they stole it from one of the Kindgom’s national parks. 

A large tree that grows as tall and wide as 15 metres, the Olea Europaea was smuggled for its financial value. The tree is believed to be sold at rates of up to JD6,000 on the black market, said Boree Faoury, a Ranger tasked with protecting the nation’s forests.

Though much of the illegal logging that takes place in Jordan’s national parks is conducted to gather firewood in the winter, the theft of the Olea Europaea is an exception, Faoury said.

“It is often taken as a whole and sold,” Faoury added. 

Oleas are often bought by luxury resorts located in Jordan or in neighbouring countries, who place them as a front entrance decoration, Faoury claimed. 

It is the biggest “prize” found in Jordan’s national parks, he noted.

The Olea is valuable for more than just its age and rarity. In Jordan, it has become a symbol of persistence, resilience and legacy, Rababah explained, claiming that it is one of the reasons it is sought by luxury resorts, wealthy citizens and even universities. 

Although there is no official data on the number of Olea Europaea trees left in Jordan’s national parks, Faoury  said they are now rare and dwindling. 

Given that the fines for attempting to steal trees in Jordan range from JD300 to JD1,200, it has become hard to dissuade potential smugglers, the forest ranger noted. 

Currently, the Rangers have little ability or resources to track down the trees once they have been stolen from the parks. As a result, they rely on checkpoints manned 24 hours a day to find potential smugglers, he added. 

“We are usually successful,” Faoury said. 

Each year, at least 10 attempts to cut down and smuggle the Olea Europaea tree are recorded, he noted, adding that usually only one to two attempts are successful each year.

The ongoing theft of these trees constitutes a serious concern for  Rababah. The Olea “provides an incredible amount of archaeological information”, he noted, adding that it helps researchers learn a great deal about the age of the area where they are found and about the type of people that lived in the region. 

Stealing the trees and replanting them in other areas not only results in the loss of that information, but also in the death of the tree itself, he noted. 

“I have witnessed some of these trees being moved and most don’t survive,” Rababah said. 

 “If these trees continue to have such a value in the black market, and if officials don’t take measures against this, then most of these trees will disappear,” Rababah worried. 

As Jordan’s forest Rangers have suffered a number of budget cuts, their ability to stop illegal logging and the future of the Olea in Jordan is highly uncertain, Faoury noted. 

However, he expressed his hope in the Rangers’ ability to do whatever they can to protect the Olea. 

 

“It is a beautiful tree and we will fight to keep it,” he concluded.

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