Working with the local tribe

An example of effective co-operation between the local community (‘ahl al-makan) and the management team of the Protectorate, is in the appointment of community guards (haris al-biyah) and the use of customary law (‘urf). The community guards were selected by their own communities to be employed full-time by the Protectorate to patrol and work in designated areas so that any violation of conservation regulations by tribal people would be seen as a violation of their own customary law (‘urf) and personal honour.

In addition, traditional customs for conserving and using resources have been employed in the interests of the Protectorate. An example is the practice of al-hilf (‘the agreement’) to control the seasonal use of pasture by which Jabaleya Bedouin agreed on an annual basis to prevent herds from entering certain high mountain pastures above 1800 metres, between February and May.

Although these traditional conservation systems are now largely vestigial, the hilf system was recently revived by the Jabaleya and a hilf was declared on Jabal Safsafa in order to conserve the Sinai Baton Blue butterfly and its food plant.

They did this as the result of a research project in the high mountains of the St Katherine Protectorate. The project discovered that the tiny endemic Sinai baton blue butterfly (Pseudophilotes sinaicus), quite possibly the smallest butterfly in the world, is critically endangered because its entire world distribution is restricted to a minute area of about 5 km². The caterpillars and adults of this species feed exclusively on Sinai thyme (Thymus decussatus), another threatened and near-endemic species. In an attempt to conserve this butterfly, in 2002 the Jabaleya with the support of the Protectorate declared Farsh Shaiyeib near the summit of Jabal Safsafa, a traditional hilf. The area is only a few hundred square metres, but contains the densest stands of thyme plants and by far the largest population of the butterfly. Domestic animals were kept out until the thyme had flowered and the caterpillars pupated, thereby protecting the butterfly population. This was the first new hilf established by the Jabaleya in living memory.

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