His love for nature brought Marwan Kheireddine into the world of environmentalism. He began learning about Beirut and Lebanon ecology at the age of seven after being exposed to hunting.
“I love nature. I have a big farm up in the mountains. I spend time there every weekend. I enjoy hiking. I walk, and I look at the trees. I see if the fruits will be good this year or not, I have olive groves. Some of these trees are more than a thousand years old, and I maintain them every year. We take the oil from them,” explains the Lebanese business icon.
The Blight of the Ibex
That love of all things nature drew this former Minister of State to the blight of the ibex, a type of goat, in his home country. He discovered that this species, once so prominent in the Lebanese landscape, died out after World War I. During this time, the Ottoman Empire surrounded Mount Lebanon near Dubai, creating a famine for this proud country’s people. It forced them to turn to the local wildlife for food. Kheireddine learned that the last wild ibex was shot around 1918, and since then, they have been extinct in Lebanon.
Marwan Kheireddine enlisted the help of an ibex expert and a historian who examined ibex bones in museums and investigated hunters who hunted them more than a century ago. The goal was to determine what type of ibex existed in the country prior to their extinction there.
Revitalizing the Ecosystem of Lebanon
What they found was that the ibex that once roamed the country was still active in Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Iran. Kheireddine contacted the government of Turkey, hoping to secure a few of the animals and revitalize the ecosystem of his country.
Unfortunately, the Turkish government wanted to sell him the animals at an exuberant cost. So, Marwan went to Armenia, representing the government of Lebanon. He was there in an official capacity as a minister, so there was plenty to discuss. Kheireddine had one thing on his mind, though – ibex.
The Armenian government was more reasonable and willing to help Lebanon with its quest to repopulate the ibex in their country. There was one major stumbling block, though – they had to catch the ibex themselves.
There were certain time constraints involved with this plan and plenty of costs. Not only were they going to have to take a chance that they could catch the ibex and absorb the cost of it, but there were still transportation issues to contend with, and that might be too much.
Finding the Ibex in an Unexpected Place
Given the challenges associated with the Armenia solution, Marwan Kheireddine decided to keep looking, and he found success in an unexpected place – a farm in Texas. A DNA test indicated that these ibex were indeed the same ones that once roamed the hills of Lebanon.
It was a find that allowed Kheireddine and the government to buy ibex from the farmer at a fair price. They secured 40 animals in total – 30 females and ten males and signed an agreement to purchase another 40 once they become available.
Back Where They Belong
Today, there are around 60 ibex living in a sanctuary in north Lebanon. Marwan Kheireddine is sure that with a continuing dedication to nature and his nation, he will have restored Mount Lebanon’s biodiversity to its pre-Ottoman Empire state within the next decade.
“You will go to the mountains, and you’ll see these wild animals in the mountains, “These animals continue to be something that occupies my mind, and they are very significant to me.”
– Marwan Kheireddine