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Griffon Vulture considering flight. Hai-Bar Carmel

Hai-Bar Carmel – Israeli Conservation at its Best

Hai-Bar Carmel - Israeli Conservation at its Best

Fallow deer at Hai-Bar Carmel, IsraelFallow deer at Hai-Bar Carmel

Hai-Bar Carmel: Operation Iran

When you visit Hai-Bar Carmel, you can’t miss the cute and humble spotted fallow deer, but there is a secret drama behind their sweet and casual presence at the nature reserve. In that dramatic story, the famed Israeli “mischievous improvisation” and bravado, typically reserved for military operations, combined to serve an entirely civil objective. 

As things go in our unstable and dangerous region, Iran underwent a revolution. A long-standing amicable relationship between the shah regime and Israel came to an abrupt end.

On February 10th, 1979, El Al’s last flight from Tehran brought 520 Israelis and Jews safely to Tel Aviv in the nick of time. Unbeknownst to them, in the belly of that plane there were eight other new immigrants.

Fallow deer (יחמור אירני)

Fallow deer, a former Israeli native resident, could at that time only be found in Iran. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, this deer used to happily graze the Judean and Galilean hills, but a single unsupervised hunter brought the entire population to extinction. Upon request by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority to the Shah, four females and four males were allowed to transfer to Israel in exchange for a male Ibex.

But then the revolution happened.

Fallow deer at the Hai-Bar Carmel preservation nature reserveFallow deer at the Hai-Bar Carmel

Foreseeing the calamity, a Parks Authority employee was sent to Iran on a foreign passport. He located the deer in the north of the country, captured them and brought the herd to Tehran. Everybody was told that their destination was a European country, but the deer nonetheless arrived in Tel Aviv.

Today the deer enjoy their adoptive home at Hai-Bar Carmel, where they are well-acclimated and keep reproducing successfully. Worldwide, fallow deer can nowadays be found only in zoos and at Hai-Bar Carmel.

Hai-Bar Carmel: Bringing the Animals Back to The Land

The concept behind Hai Bar Carmel is to try and turn back the clock to the days when “Mount Carmel was  a world of living things that are different from what we see today: Panthers, roe deer, nesting vulture colonies, Egyptian vultures, falcons, and many species of night owls.”. Haven’t seen or heard of panthers yet, but the rest of the animals are definitely there.

A bridge leading to an animal viewing spot, Hai-Bar CarmelWalking ramps lead to view spots over the animal enclosures

The park has been established in the1960s in an effort to bring endangered and extinct animal species of Israel back to the land. It offers a haven for large raptors and mammals, who were hunted, poisoned, electrocuted and suffered from general habitat destruction and loss. That devastation had been in progression since the 19th century, but much had started even earlier.

The idea is to create breeding nuclei capable of successful reproduction and nurturance, so that ultimately they could be released to re-establish in their natural habitats.  Additionally, the open-to-the-public parts of the reserve serve the educational purpose of acquainting the population with the original fauna of the land.

The park is not very large, but the pens are spacious, providing an environment as close to a natural habitat for the animals as possible. Generally, with a bit of patience and with sharp eyes, it is easy to spot and view most of the animals.

Between water and land: Fire salamanders

At the park there is also a small pond, which was completely dry when we visited, in which fire salamanders and other amphibians are bred. Agriculture, drainage and “development” caused the disappearance of many natural rain pools, the habitat for various amphibians. The pool at Hai-Bar Carmel is an effort to resuscitate the population. It is fed exclusively by surface runoff.

Everything in the reserve, except for the off-limits breeding areas, is highly accessible and easy to navigate. Visiting is a joyful adventure for the entire family.

Hai-Bar Carmel: Horns and Antlers

The large enclosures within a natural setup provide ample space for the  deer, sheep and goats to roam, socialize, fight, flirt and mate….

My daughter Ela and I wandered from one corral to another, pausing to see the beautiful animals rest and relax under the shade of a tree, and then on a moment’s notice stir, jump up to fight, or alternately, to caress and seduce each other.

The magnificent wild goat (עז הבר הכרתית)

The name “goat” gives these animals an undeserved image of domesticity and plainness. In reality the animals are no less than magnificent! The Cretan wild goat is presumed to be the forebear of the domesticated goat, but the animal, classified as a “vulnerable” species, retains a dignity and independence plain to the eye. 

Nowadays, over most of their world distribution, viable populations rarely occur outside protected areas.

The Hai-Bar population in Israel suffered 18 losses during the Carmel wild fire of 1989. Fortunately, some of the males managed to jump over the fences and survived the fire. Following that, these now-wild males would come back to the Hai-Bar to visit the females during breeding season.

The species, assumed to be the Biblical “ako” (אקו) or “zamer” (זמר) (Deut. 14,5), are believed to have been extinct in the land for thousands of years. Sightings were reported, though, in the Syrian desert as late as the 20th century.

Other horny things

In addition to the above, the visitor can see mountain gazelles (צבי ארץ ישראלי), Armenian wild sheep with their awesome, picturesque horns (כבש בר אירני), and roe deer (אייל הכרמל). Unfortunately, we did not succeed to see all of them and take their pictures on that trip.

Hai-Bar Carmel: Wings and Claws

Moving on the designated trail towards the birds section, a wondrous sight stopped us on our tracks. Despite knowing in advance what we were about to see, we were nonetheless taken by surprise. The magnificent birds were not inside a cage, as expected, but rather perched on top of it. A line of large, gorgeous raptors, mostly griffon vultures, was posing for my photos. It was cold and windy and they were hesitant. Every once in a while, one would brave the elements, take off, circle around, then return.

    Griffon Vulture perched over a cage, Hai-Bar Carmel Griffon Vulture considering flight. Hai-Bar Carmel

Griffon vultures perched over cage at Hai-Bar Carmel

Thanks to special training, the raptors raised at the Hai-Bar take to the wild gradually. Many eventually leave, and live naturally in the Carmel and elsewhere in the county. In cooperation with farmers, feeding boxes for nocturnal birds of prey have been placed in fields for mutual benefit – the raptors feed on rodents that damage crops.

The raptor project is meant, first and foremost, to save endangered species, therefore some nurseries are not accessible to the public.

The Griffon Vultures

Griffon vultures (נשרים) and other highly endangered species are hatched using incentives for further breeding, such as taking away the eggs to incubators and then returning the chicks to the parents. Dummy eggs are placed in the nests to encourage incubating activity. Fledglings are transferred to acclimatization cages to practice flight and to get to know the terrain. 

The threats to the birds are numerous: poaching, poisoning by pesticides, pollution, military exercises, even electrocution. This last problem has largely been successfully addressed. Due to their size, the vultures might touch on two lines at once and close a circuit. To prevent this, the electrical company put special protectors over its high voltage lines. The biggest danger, though, is still eating poisoned food, a problem authorities have a hard time redressing

Ela looking at the vulturesEla pointing at the vultures

All birds released into the wild are tagged, often colorfully, for detection at a distance. Sometimes transmitters are attached to their wings. Simple transmitters help to monitor the birds within the boundaries of Israel, but more sophisticated satellite transmitters enable monitoring beyond borders. One vulture was tracked to fly all the way to Yemen and back…

More to the raptors than vultures

The griffon vulture shares the cage with another large bird – the sea eagle (עיטם). Other birds, more sensitive to human proximity are grown away from the public eye and monitored by cameras. These include the golden eagles (עייט זהוב), Bonelli’s eagle (עייט ניצי), the Lanner falcon (בז הצוקים), the Egptian vulture (רחם) and cinereous vulture (עוזניית הנגב). 

Aftermath: Daliat el Carmel: Home-made Druse Food and a Spectacular Sunset

A (good) gamble on a place to eat

Following a marvelous day outdoors, it was time to eat. The Druse cuisine is much liked by Israelis, and there are many restaurants and even street joints providing good alimentation. We looked up dining possibilities in Daliat el Carmel and chose “Hikam’s House”, a place which sounded attractive. It was not, as we expected, a regular food restaurant on main street. Instead, we were surprised to find out it was actually somebody’s home, and quite a challnege to get to…

Driving comfortably on the village main street, Waze GPS ordered us to take a sharp right into a superbly inclined narrow road, El Jalil. It seemed to lead straight into the sky… My heart skipped a beat. This type of driving is my personal equivalent of fear of flying. My daughter, who was driving, wasn’t frazzled by it even a bit, but I begged her to find another way. Eventually we could not avoid the unavoidable. Trying another route, we nonetheless experienced some hair-raising ups and downs across Dalia, as I was holding my breath and closing my eyes. 

Once we had arrived at our proclaimed destination, there was no sign in sight. My brilliant daughter had the sixth sense, though. She pointed at a certain house and sent me to check it out as she parked in the middle of the empty road. 

A lovely full-bodied lady with a large smile came out to greet me. Hikam said we were lucky as a large group had just left, and there were still plenty of leftovers, but I believe that at any given moment there would be enough food at her kitchen…

And, indeed, over the stove, large pots were still bubbling…

The Veranda

We self-served and sat on the large veranda, facing the mountains. I always liked the stuffed vine leaves, but everything was wonderfully spiced and delicious. 

And then, for dessert, we got the best sunset view ever… 

Home meal at Hikam's. Daliat el Carmel

The sunset of a lifetime

Due to unusual haze caused by a country-wide sandstorm, the sunset viewed from Hikam’s veranda was simply spectacular. We watched as colors intensified, taking over the entire western sky, a perfect ending for a perfect day.

Glorious sunset viewed from Hakim's veranda, Daliat el Carmel

Sumset splendor viwed from Hakim's veranda, Daliat el CarmelSunset viewed from Daliat el Carmel

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