Eden Returning

Mudhafar Salim smiles with a tortoise during the Iraqi Youth Hike

In a blast from the recent past, I just watched a brilliant PBS “Nature” on the Mesopotamian Marshes from 2010.  You can find the whole episode, titled “Braving Iraq” here.

It is absolutely worth watching, especially if you have any interest in either Iraq or wildlife.  David Johnson and Stephen Foote, the filmmakers behind “Nature,” discuss how they tried to show a side of Iraq that gets overlooked: “it’s not about the bang bang, it’s about the tweet tweet.”

The wildlife they showcase is spectacular.  Huge flocks of flamingos and pelicans flying overhead, tufted herons and mottled kingfishers, huge toads and frogs live in peace and harmony in Iraq’s marshlands.

The window into the Marsh Arab culture, though small, is also fascinating.  The reed huts and painted boats hint at a vast history, and are totally unexpected in a country better known for its deserts.

When Saddam Hussein dammed the Tigris, and dug canals to channel the water around the Marshes, the desert closed in quickly.  How can you hope to rehabilitate a delicate ecosystem in the face of such destruction?  Fighting against the massive, destructive engineering projects of the old regime seems a sisyphean task.  Yet individuals like Azzam Alwash, founder of Nature Iraq, and Mudhafar Salim, the organization’s lead ornithologist, never seem to lose hope.

What most struck me, however, was the obvious passion of the individuals working to restore the marshes.  There is one scene in particular where the team finds a flock of Marbled Teal, a species of duck thought to have left Iraq for more hospitable climates.  Not only had the marsh conservation efforts brought back the Teal, it brought them back in force.  Their flock was 40,000 strong!  Seeing Alwash and Salim’s obvious joy at the returning birds was, for me, the highlight of the episode.  Their passion for the subject was contagious.

This passion is what drives Nature Iraq.  Working with people who believe so strongly in the work they do, and bring such energy to their cause is a rare privilege.  Here at EPIC, we are honored to have partnered with Nature Iraq during our Iraqi Youth Hike, and are always excited to see their projects.

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