Thursday, May 27, 2010

Leopards and Wolves and Foxes (Oh my!) - The Predators of the Chai Bar Nature Preserve

About 40 kilometers north of Eilat on Route 90 lies the remarkable Chai Bar Nature Preserve. This large and open preserve sits in the red heart of the Arava Valley, surrounded by the Red Mountains of Jordan and the sandstone cliffs of the Israeli Negev. It is home to a variety of wild life that used to flourish in Israel and that are mentioned in the Torah.

Descending from the High Desert of the Negev to the Arava Valley, red as the heart of a watermelon, the Red Mountains of Jordan face us on the other side. (Click for full size images.)

The predators, snakes, birds and small creatures are all housed in a glassed-in area that opens to the desert all around, giving a sense of space to the cages while still protecting animals and visitors alike.

The predators are some of the showcase animals of the preserve. Wolves and foxes, nocturnal creatures for the most part, are still found in the desert. The wolves travel in small packs of 3-4 while the foxes are mostly solitary. They can be seen at night by the careful observer at the edges of developed areas in the desert. The wolves and foxes are no fools and want their meal as easy as the next fast-food junky. They hang around farms and garbage dumps looking for an open chicken coop or food waste. If you travel off-road with a four-wheeler and a bright (1 million watt) light, you can see their eyes and ghostly bodies reflected in the beam.

Desert wolves at the Chai Bar Animal Preserve

Blue-eyed, large-eared, bushy-tailed desert fox (Click to see his eyes better)

The prize predator in all of the desert is the leopard. It is hard to believe that an animal so closely associated with the African forest is to be found in the Negev, but Sinai and Israel used to be filled with them. As G-d tells the Israelites in the desert:
28And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. 29I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.  -- (Exodus 23)
 The leopard, top predator in a parched land

It is currently unknown how many wild leopards remain in the Negev, but estimates run around seven. A few years ago one broke into a home in the Kibbutz of Sede Boquer where the owner, who happened to be a naturalist whose expertise was the leopard, threw a blanket over it and managed to wrestle it to the ground while waiting for help. The animal died soon thereafter, as it must have been very sick to even try breaking in to an occupied home. The only place that signs are placed about wild leopards today in Israel is at the Dead Sea, but none have been seen there in years.

Desert leopard (Panthera pardus).
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages... Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. - Shakespeare,"As You Like It"

The leopard is amazingly agile and fast. This one bounded into the bower of the tree in three lithe leaps (he did it faster than you can say it :) first into the notch, second into the bottom of the bower, finally into the bower itself, all in one smooth motion. Well camouflaged, you are dead meat should you walk beneath.

Can you find the leopard in the tree?

In our next post we will write about the safari experience at Chai Bar and Jurassic Park!

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