Lebanese business icon Marwan Kheireddine has a deep appreciation for nature. So when he’s not making major deals for AM Bank, the CEO can be found exploring the great outdoors.
“I love nature. I have a big farm up in the mountains. I spend time there every weekend. I enjoy hiking. I walk, I look at the trees. I see if the fruits are going to be good this year or not,” says Marwan Kheireddine. “I have olive groves. Some of these trees are more than a thousand years old and I maintain them every year. We take out the oil from them.”
After being introduced to hunting at the age of 7, Marwan Kheireddine began to learn about the ecosystem in Lebanon. “I discovered that during the First World War, even though Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire, the Lebanese in Mount Lebanon went against the Ottoman Empire in the war,” Marwan Kheireddine explains. “So the Ottomans surrounded Mount Lebanon, and there was a famine in Mount Lebanon. People died because of famine. They had a blockade, and no food would come in. During those two or three years, the people living in the mountains killed all the wildlife. Anything they could see that was meat, they would kill it to eat.”
During that challenging time, the last wild ibex, a species of goat, was shot in Lebanon around 1918, according to Marwan Kheireddine. “So we had them in the wild until 1918 when there was a famine,” Marwan Kheireddine continues. “We got people to conduct a study on what type of ibex we had in Lebanon because Lebanon is in the middle between the north, toward Europe, and the south, toward Egypt. And two types of ibex live in this region. Both are wild goats, but they have different DNA.”
Ibex have long, curved horns, cloven hooves, and are herbivores. They are known to have tasty meat, which leaves them at a higher risk of being hunted.
Marwan Kheireddine’s plan to defend nature in Lebanon
Marwan Kheireddine brought in an environmentalist familiar with ibex and a historian who analyzed the remains of ibex that were in museums and researched hunters who had hunted them more than a hundred years ago.
“We analyzed the DNA to determine what type of ibex we had in Lebanon,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “And we discovered that the type we had in Lebanon was the bezoar ibex, which you find in Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Armenia.”
As minister of state in the Lebanese government from July 2011 to February 2014, Marwan Kheireddine contacted the Turkish government.
“They wanted to sell us the ibex at an extremely expensive price — around $10,000 per animal,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “I decided to go to Armenia. I went on an official trip there as a minister representing the president of Lebanon to talk about a million things, but a million things were not important. I want to talk about the ibex. We agreed with the Armenian government.”
While the Armenian government complied, they presented Marwan Kheireddine with the challenge of catching ibex in the wild.
“It was something that could take several months, and you might be successful. You might not be successful. And it costs a lot of money. And then you have to figure out how to bring them to Lebanon,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “So we kept searching, and believe it or not, we found a farm in Texas that breeds them. They didn’t know how they got them, but we checked their DNA, and it was identical to the DNA that we wanted. So we bought 40 ibex from that farm in Texas three years ago. We bought 10 males and 30 females. And we have an agreement with them to sell us an additional 40 once they have them.”
The ibex were then shipped to Lebanon via Qatar Airways. While it was a complicated journey getting the ibex transported to Lebanon, Marwan Kheireddine persevered with his plan and carefully brought them back to his homeland.
Ibex have found safety in return to Lebanese land
“We put them in a sanctuary up north in Lebanon, and we are breeding them,” Marwan Kheireddine notes. “Today, I think we have around 60 ibex. And hopefully, by next year, we will start releasing them into the wild. We changed the law in Lebanon so that they are protected. We appointed guards in the forests. Everything is set up for them.”
With a continued devotion to nature and his homeland, Marwan Kheireddine is confident that within the next decade, he will have reconstituted the wildlife to what it was before the Ottoman Empire siege of Mount Lebanon. “You will go to the mountains, and you’ll see these wild animals in the mountains,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “These animals continue to be something that occupies my mind, and they are very significant to me.”