Wildlife preservationists fight expansion, seek to bring back animals of the bible

As the population of Israel grows, so do the requests for building and expansion within the small country.  Unfettered growth and expansion has nature conservationists throwing up their arms.

“The laws that we have today on planning are not strict enough in order to protect open landscape and natural landscape,” said Yehoshua Shkedy, a professor at Hebrew University and scientist with the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority (INNPPA). “The government is trying to move now a new law that is trying to make things easier for developers.”

Expansion is just the latest fight Israeli wildlife preservationists have taken up since the state’s creation. In 1962, the government enacted a conservation law to help restore the wildlife population decimated by hunting and wars within the region. Many of the animals of the region were either extinct in the area or on the verge of becoming so. For example, of the nine mammals mentioned in the Bible as fit for consumption (Deuteronomy 14: 4-5) — roe deer, Persian fallow deer, gazelle, addax, bison, oryx, wild goat, wild ox and ibex — only the gazelle and the ibex remained in Israel by the 1960s.

Since then, the INNPPA has reintroduced several of the animals that were driven from the region. Their most successful reintroduction has been of the Persian fallow deer, which now has a population of around 500 throughout several regions of the country.

The largest of the fallow deer, the Persian fallow stands about 3 feet tall at the shoulder, weighs 90 to 220 pounds and has a yellowish-brown coat with white spots, and flattened antlers similar to those of a moose. The Book of Kings tells that the animal was tithed to King Solomon by his subjects. Now they are either closely watched or live in fenced-in areas protected by the INNPPA or other conservation groups.

The conservationists’ worry is that all their work could be undone by the bulldozers in upcoming expansion projects.

Shkedy said that when his parents moved to Israel in 1947 they had a dream of agriculture and development. But, he said, times and circumstances have changed a lot since then.

“I think today, my generation and my kids’ generation have to change this aspiration, this vision. We have to conserve and protect rather than develop and invest. We should keep in mind that we didn’t come to this country just because we wanted to see a sea of houses. We came to this country — I’m not religious — because of biblical things,” he said.

The animals Shkedy is protecting are part of that biblical history. But, for many conservationists, the reintroduction of animals is not a matter of the history of the land but the importance of nature.

“Reintroductions are vitally important to return functions to the ecosystem that were lost,” said David Saltz, a professor with the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University. “The idea is that reintroductions return species to the area [from which] they were lost, and what records do we have of what existed there? The Bible.”

Using biblical animals as a stepping stone is just one way conservationists are able to reach out and draw attention to their cause.

“Using the biblical item in order to convince others it’s important — this is the way to go,”  Shkedy said. “We can use the Bible as a kind of lighthouse.”


A foursome was tramping the fairway toward the seventh hole at Hillcrest Country Club last Saturday when two coyotes appeared from out of the shrubs. The golfers were close enough to see that one animal was female and the other clearly male. That’s how close they were.

Every creature froze: the men gripping their seven irons; the coyotes watching, waiting for someone to do something stupid.

The thing about this encounter is that Hillcrest is about as urban as courses get. The wildlife corridor of the Santa Monica Mountains comes to a screeching halt at Sunset, five miles and who knows how many stoplights, intersections, animal control officers and speeding cars north. To the south are more homes, Interstate 10, more sprawl.

Hillcrest is a mid-city oasis. Acres of grass and trees and lawn sprinklers, with all the squirrels a wild dog could eat and the occasional Arnold Palmer left out on the patio to sip from. But I couldn’t imagine how any wild animal without wings could get there.

It turns out that in 2004 there were 1,100 coyote sightings in metropolitan Los Angeles and 955 for the Valley. There were 12 sightings in Beverly Hills — up from four the year before — and several on the UCLA campus. Amazing how much ground a creature can cover when it’s not stuck in Westside traffic.

There are a lot of places you can go –metaphorically — with these coyotes.

“The Sopranos” on HBO has developed a leitmotif out of wild things coming in and out of mob boss Tony’s life: a bear on the back lawn, waterfowl in the pool, a talking sea bass on his boat. Animals bring out the humanity in Tony, like for when he beat a guy senseless for sitting on a poodle.

You could also remark on how fitting it is that among the movers and shakers at Hillcrest, there are not a few who would meet their match in this animal.

“It’s not enough to be clever,” a wealthy and successful friend of mine tells me. “You also have to be lucky.”

Mark Twain called coyotes, “the most friendless of God’s creatures,” but clever and lucky works just as well.

And that’s the metaphor I’m sticking with here, on the eve of the New Year.

We learned four years ago, on Sept. 11, that the world is not a safe place. But evidently one lesson was not enough for it to sink in. If Sept. 11 showed that life can change in an instant, this entire year demonstrated that life’s very essence is unpredictable, ever-changing, unknowable.

Hurricanes, floods, terror attacks, terror threats — all around us we witnessed the ever-present danger and uncertainty that for most people, through most of human history, has defined human existence. Here today, wiped out tomorrow.

It took awhile, but the realization seems to have taken hold.

“I suppose after Sept. 11 some were a little Pollyanna-ish,” Fifth District Councilman Jack Weiss told me. “That is, some seemed to believe we could deal with this problem and it would go away. Some also believed that it couldn’t happen here again.”

If the raw fear has ebbed, the feeling of invincibility, of safety, has never fully returned.

Every year since Sept. 11, the High Holidays have brought heightened security concerns and more elaborate precautions, but this year even more so. An LAPD closed-door security briefing for synagogues at ths Simon Wiesenthal Center organized by Weiss’ office was better attended than in past years, and the questions were more direct, more palpably fearful.

Never in history have Jews been as economically, culturally and politically free and powerful. Yet our places of worship feel more vulnerable as ever. We have the freedom of prayer — behind security cameras and armed guards.

And just when we believe we have the hatches battened against man-made terror, here come the natural disasters to remind us that man plans and God laughs.

“Who shall live and who shall die?” we read in the High Holiday liturgy. “Who by fire? Who by water?”

We needn’t be resigned to our fates — or the fates others might wish upon us — but we may want to step back and acknowledge, for once, just how much of life is not ours to control. We can only do our best to protect ourselves and fulfill our promise, knowing all the while the hour is late, the future is uncertain and the coyote is at the door.

Happy New Year.




Good Deed Indeed

Earth Day is about healing all creatures on the Earth. Here is a chance for you to do a good deed by entering The Good Deed Contest.

Here’s what you will do:

1. Do a good deed (an amazing one!)
2. Write an essay, telling what you did, what motivated you and what you got out of the process, and send it to: Abbygilad@yahoo.com

The will receive a Baskin-Robbins gift certificate and get the essay printed in an upcoming issue of The Jewish Journal.

Answer this quiz question from the California Wildlife Center for a sweet prize:

What do you do if you meet a rattlesnake?

a. Throw rocks at it to make it go away.
b. Walk away slowly and quietly.
c. Hiss at it to threaten it.

Talk to the Animals

Here is another Earth Day-related event that you might want to check out:

California Wildlife Center Open House,

26026 Piuma Road, Calabasas, May 1, noon-4 p.m.

Unscramble what you will see there:


Penny for Your Thoughts

Go to Google.com and type in Pennies for the Planet. Find out how you can collect pennies and help save the big cats around the world through the World Wildlife Fund.