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Eco-tourism blossoms in desert kingdom Jordan
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A Trek uphill from Jordan's scorching Dead Sea shore through the towering sandstone walls of the Mujib gorge leaves you with a pulse-racing way to get back down - strap into a harness and rappel down a waterfall into a sparkling river.

Jordan, home of the ancient red-rock city of Petra, is reaching beyond its considerable historical and Biblical tourist attractions to try to capture a stake in the growing outdoor adventure and eco-tourism market.

Besides the Mujib gorge - which has the distinction of being the lowest elevation nature reserve in the world - Jordan is marketing places like the wooded highlands and rocky slopes of the Dana Reserve in the country's south. Visitors take in views of massive domelike clusters of red-beige rock and might catch a glimpse of the shy mountain ibex before settling in for the night at a camp site, rustic guesthouse or the reserve's candlelit eco-lodge.

The desert kingdom's effort to lure eco-tourists - 66,000 came last year among a total of 3.4 million tourists - seeks to reap the benefits of four decades of pioneering wildlife and nature conservation.

Environmentalists supported by then-ruler King Hussein founded The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in 1966 at a time when war with Israel, not ecological conservation, dominated agendas.

"The area was in turmoil," said the society's director, Yehya Khaled. "The following year we had a war between the Arabs and Israel."

Since then, the non-governmental organization has led environmental education programs, set a national environmental strategy and established and maintained eight nature reserves so far.

Other countries in the Middle East are following Jordan's lead.

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