NATURE RESERVES IN ISRAEL


Despite its limited area, Israel has an extraordinarily varied landscape and a rich array of flora and fauna. There are some 2,800 different species of wild plants (150 of them indigenous) – an extremely high number in relation to the area – in its three geobotanical regions: Mediterranean, Saharo-Sindi, and Irano-Turani, as well as enclaves of tropical and European flora, the most northern and southern known. About 250 of the plants are endemic. The fauna is also varied, though it is only a remnant of the wild life of biblical times; at least 15 large mammalian species have become extinct. There are more than 20 varieties of freshwater fish, several species of amphibians and eight of reptiles, and 380 varieties of birds (150 of which nest in Israel, the remainder being migratory or winter visitors). Israel hosts over 150 million migratory birds each year during the spring and fall seasons. In addition, there are about 70 species of mammals, mostly small rodents and bats. Gazelle, wild boar, ibex, hyena, wolf, jackal, hyrax, caracal, and lynx are still to be found.

The dynamic development of modern Israel has inevitably affected plant and animal ecology. Some 500 new villages and a score of new towns, as well as the rapid expansion of existing ones, have encroached on areas of hitherto undisturbed wild life and natural vegetation. The quadrupling of the population, the rise in the standard of living, and the vast expansion of tourism, have brought large numbers of hikers and trippers to the countryside.

To protect the flora and fauna, a Nature Reserves Authority was established by the government in 1963. Some 380 areas have been selected as nature reserves in which landscape, flora, and fauna are protected in their natural condition. Some are large reserves, in which the flora and fauna maintain an equilibrium, for instance on Mt. Meron (about 70,000 dunams: 17,500 acres). There are also the smaller areas maintained for specific scientific reasons, e.g., winter pools to preserve lower crustacea and amphibians, a ridge of sandstone with its typical flora, islands on which common tern nest, and sites such as Ḥorshat Tal and Circassia as reminders of the landscape that once existed. While most of the reserves are open to the public, some are closed to preserve their scientific value. Facilities for visitors have been provided at Tel Dan, the "Tannur" near Metullah, the cave of "Pa'ar," the "Masrek" near Jerusalem, En-Gedi, etc., and the work is being extended to other places throughout the country. The Nature Reserves Authority has also undertaken to reintroduce species that have become extinct in Israel. At the Ḥai-Bar (wildlife) Biblical Game Reserve at Yotvata (34,500 dunams; 8,650 acres), attempts were begun in 1966 to breed some of these extinct species, with the approval of the World Wildlife Fund. Another Hai-Bar is located on Mt. Carmel (6,000 dunams; 1,500 acres) and includes species that used to live on the mountain. In 1998 the Nature Reserves Authority became part of the Israel Nature and Park Authority, a combined authority responsible for all the natural and archeological reserves and parks in Israel.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

M. Zohary, Geobotanikah (Heb., 1955); Rashut Shemurot ha-Teva, Pirsumim (1965– ); WEBSITES: www.mfa.gov.il; www.parks.org.il.

[Abraham Yoffe /

Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.