INTRODUCTION | GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE | WATER | NATURE | ENVIRONMENT | INFRASTRUCTURE | URBAN LIFE | RURAL LIFE
Over 500 different species of birds can be seen in Israel. Some, like the common bulbul, are resident in the country; others, such as coots and starlings, spend the winter feasting on food provided by Israel’s fish ponds and farmland.
Millions of birds migrate twice yearly along the length of the country, providing magnificent opportunities for bird watching. Honey buzzards, pelicans, and other large and small migrants fill the skies in March and October. Several raptor species, among them eagles, falcons, and hawks, and tiny songbirds such as sylvia warblers and goldcrests, nest in Israel.
Delicate mountain gazelles roam over the hills; foxes, jungle cats, and other mammals live in wooded areas; Nubian ibex with majestic horns leap over desert crags; and chameleons, snakes, and agama lizards are among the 100 reptile species native to the country.
In efforts to conserve the natural environment, stringent laws for the protection of nature and wildlife have been enacted, making it illegal to pick even the most common roadside flowers. Charged with the advancement of nature preservation, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) strives to protect the landscape and natural environment. Over 150 nature reserves and 65 national parks established throughout the country under the authority’s supervision, encompass some 400 square miles (nearly 1000 square kilometers). About 20 reserves have been developed for public use with visitors’ centers, roads, and hiking trails, attracting over two million people every year. One of Israel’s important regions – Mount Carmel – was declared a biosphere reserve within the framework of the Man and Biosphere Program of UNESCO.
Hundreds of plants and animals, including the oak, palm, gazelle, ibex, leopard, and vulture, are protected, and special rescue operations have been initiated to ensure the survival of a number of endangered species. Feeding stations for wolves, hyenas, and foxes have been set up, as well as safe nesting sites for birds. Eggs of marine turtles are collected regularly from the Mediterranean shore and hatched in incubators; the young turtles are then returned to the sea. With more than 500 million migrating birds passing over the country each year, Israel has become an internationally known bird-watching center and a focal point of international research and cooperation.
Careful monitoring of bird migration routes helps prevent bird-aircraft collisions. An Internet site (http://www.birds.org.il) developed in Israel under the motto “Birds Know No Boundaries,” links children throughout the world in an educational and research project.
Inspired by a profound sense of heritage, efforts are being made to preserve and reintroduce plant and animal life, which existed in biblical times and have since either disappeared from the region or are threatened with extinction. Neot Kedumim, a landscape reserve in the center of the country dedicated to collecting and conserving extant plant varieties mentioned in the Bible, has established extensive gardens with flora native to various geographical areas of the Land of Israel in ancient times. The Hai Bar wildlife projects in the Arava and on Mount Carmel were set up to reintroduce animal species, which once roamed the hills and deserts of the Land, into their former natural habitats. Animals now being raised include ostriches, Persian fallow deer, oryxes, onagers, and Somali wild asses.
Public awareness of nature preservation is promoted in schools and among the population at large through guided excursions, publications, and information campaigns. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the country’s largest environmental organization, has spearheaded dozens of campaigns against the destruction of ecosystems and landscapes through unwise development. Its educational outreach program includes 10 field schools, 4 bird-watching centers, 5 urban nature centers, and 10 local branches.
Keren Kayemet – The Jewish National Fund was founded (1901) to purchase land for Jewish agricultural communities, as well as to carry out development, reclamation and afforestation projects in the Land of Israel. By the time Israel became independent (1948), the JNF, with funds collected from Jews all over the world, had bought some 240,000 acres, most of which had to be redeemed from centuries of neglect, and had planted about 4.5 million trees on the country’s rocky hillsides.
Today over 200 million trees in forests and woodlands covering some 300,000 acres provide Israelis with a wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation and appreciation of nature. While continuing its activities of afforestation and forest maintenance, the JNF also develops parks and recreation sites, prepares infrastructure for new communities, carries out various water-harvesting projects and is an active partner in environmental conservation efforts throughout the country.