SPNI is one of the central organizations monitoring mammal species in Israel. We strive to reduce conflict between humans and wild animals through research, education and conservation. Working together with our partners including the Ministry for Environmental Protection, Nature and Park Authority, Universities and zoos we carry out cutting edge research and develop new techniques and approaches to protect Israel’s wild, native mammals.
With our partners we conduct ambitious conservation and reintroduction projects for these fascinating creatures.
Israel is a designated world biodiversity hotspot; part of the 1.4% of the planet where over 35% of vertebrate species are concentrated. In 2014 the World Wildlife Fund published a report concluding that in the past 40 years, half the planet’s wildlife had disappeared. If it wasn't clear before, it is now more urgent than ever to protect the earth's animals.
Israel is home to 104 different species of mammals distributed over Israel’s four physiographic regions: coastal hills, central highlands, the Jordan rift valley and the Negev Desert. Unfortunately, due to climate change and the growing needs of the human population, Israel’s unique wildlife is under threat. Fifty-seven of them (54%) are already endangered, and 9% of our mammal species are extinct. Development of open spaces, deforestation, pollution, illegal poisoning and hunting, are the main factors threatening these species.
Breaking New Ground for Bat Protection
One third of Israel’s mammal species are bats, but relatively little is known about these flying mammals – anywhere in the world. We know, for instance, that some Israeli bat species migrate, but not where! SPNI’s mammal center employs arguably Israel’s foremost bat expert who is carrying out groundbreaking research to improve conditions for Israel’s bats. For instance, the results of our annual bat survey highlighted a long term decline in the bat population of Alma Caves, a popular tourist attraction and home to several different species of bat, including some endangered ones. We are in the midst of creating a solution to stop this decline that will not adversely affect hiking in the caves.
In a 21st century manifestation of Isaiah’s famous prophecy – turning swords into plowshares -- —Israel’s unused bunkers in the Jordan Valley are now being converted into bat roosts. Abandoned by soldiers after the peace treaty with Jordan, bats have moved into the dark bunkers. These bunkers are now collapsing or scheduled for demolition. SPNI is working with the IDF and INPA to reinforce the bunkers, reaching an agreement to halt demolition, and improve them for the bats by making artificial stalactites from polyurethane and cement. Cameras have been placed in the bunkers. The stream can be viewed from May to November at http://www.batsinbunkers.org/
Reintroducing Persian Fallow Deer to the Wild
Persian Fallow Deer are nature’s gardeners, eating shrubs to clear pathways for other animals to move through thick undergrowth and dispersing seeds. They are also an important food source for large carnivores such as wolves and hyenas.
Persian Fallow Deer were hunted to extinction in Israel in the early 20th Century. Reintroduction projects were started in the Galilee in 1996 and around Jerusalem in 2005. The Galilee project has been tremendously successful, and a healthy, self-sustaining population of deer is now at home again in Israel. The project has been so successful that a second reintroduction was started in 2013 in the Upper Galilee with animals taken exclusively from this herd. SPNI tracks their progress using state of the art GPS chips and hidden cameras. In Jerusalem the reintroduction project has been much less successful, and SPNI is currently working out why so the next reintroduction can be more successful.
Saving the Last of the Otters
SPNI has been conducting the authoritative research on Israel’s otters for decades. Our annual survey shows that Israel’s otter population is showing signs of long term decline and, unless action is taken immediately, will disappear completely. The survey taken conducted in 2015 indicated that there are around 100 individuals left in the wild, in only a few of their historic habitats.
The quality of our rivers are important for otters, but the connections between different waterways are equally crucial. Our recommendations were passed on to Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Ministry of the Environment and Regional Planning Bodies, within 6 months we have already seen action taken on behalf of the otters, such as rethinking planned developments and altering planned road routes. This is only the beginning of what will be a long struggle to restore the otter population to full health, including captive breeding and reintroduction.