Many of the most beautiful animals mentioned in the Bible can still be seen in Israel today!
By Nosson Shulman, Licensed Tour Guide
In part 1, we saw 5 exotic animals which surprisingly roamed the land of Israel in recent times, but no longer do. Amazingly, many of the most beautiful animals mentioned in the Bible can still be seen in Israel today! Some of them never actually went extinct (in Israel). Others did, but were later successfully reintroduced into the wild.
In order to reintroduce animals into the wild, Israel has set up two controlled areas in the country called Hai Bars. One is in the biblical Carmel mountains, which mimic the habitant of animals who thrive in the Mediterranean climate of northern and central Israel. The other is in the desert, for animals that thrive in the arid climates of southern Israel (which tourists may visit).
Below are five beautiful animals which can be found in Israel today:
1) Leopard– “A wolf shall live with a lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a kid (Isaiah 11:6).”
People are often surprised to hear that Israel still has wild leopards, currently the largest felines in Israel. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Arabian leopard was a common sighting throughout Israel. As the years went by the Bedouins hunted them, almost to extinction. The last one in Northern Israel was killed in 1965, and there are believed to only be 6 left in all of Israel (and only 200 Arabian leopards in the world) all living in the Negev desert of Israel’s south.
The last confirmed spotting of this stunning cat was in 2012 on IDF surveillance cameras in Northern Samaria.
2) Hyena – “And one company turned to the road leading to Beth-horon, and one company turned to the road leading to the border, which overlooks the valley of the Hyenas, toward the wilderness (1 Shmuel 13:22)”
Striped Hyenas play an important, “cleanup” role in nature due to the fact that they eat left over carcasses of other predators, which would otherwise just remain there. They can be found in several locales in Israel’s wild (except the coastal region) where they live in packs. Although not that rare, people do not usually see them due to their nocturnal lifestyle, but their “laughter” can be heard at times by campers in the desert.
3) Antelope (Arabian Oryx) – “These are the animals that you may eat…Antelope (Deuteronomy 14:4-5)”
In the 1970s, the Arabian Oryx became extinct (in the wild) worldwide. Israel purchased four of them from a zoo which still had them in Phoenix, and by 1982 the first batch were ready to be reintroduced into the wild. Today, more than a hundred live in the wild and their population continues to grow. In addition, Israel continues to breed and release more antelopes from the Hai bar (about 6 on average annually) adding to its numbers.
4) Persian Fallow Deer – “These are the animals that you may eat…fallow deer (Deuteronomy 14:4-5)”
Though common in the Middle East during the early 19th century, due to rampant poaching, they went extinct worldwide (both in the wild and captivity). Or so the world thought! In the 1950s, a small herd was surprisingly discovered in Southwestern Iran.
For two decades, Israel tried to convince the Shah of Iran to give two deer to Israel. They even invited his brother (an avid hunter) to Israel to hunt Ibexes (although the Ibex is a protected species, the Agriculture minister made an exception in this case). Eventually, the Shah’s brother agreed to give the deer. General Avraham Yoffe (the founder and driving force of Israel’s animal reintroduction program, including the hai bars) immediately flew to Tehran to take possession of them, but upon landing he suffered a heart attack, and the project was put on hold.
In December 1978 with the Iranian revolution taking place, the Shah called the Israeli government to come pick up the deer before it was too late. The Mossad (Israel’s secret service) was dispatched to Tehran but by the time they arrived, the Shah and his family had fled to the US and they were now on their own to find the deer. Miraculously, the agents managed to locate the deer and put 4 of them on the last El Al flight to ever leave Iran (since 1979, Iran has refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist).
Today, 400-500 live in Israel’s wild and can be seen by tourists in Nahal Ksiv, Nachal Soreq (outside of Jerusalem) and the Carmel Mountains. Outside of Iran, Israel is the only country in the world to have Persian Fallow Deer currently living in the wild.
5) Griffin Vulture – As a nesher (Griffin Vulture) awakens its nest, hovering over its fledglings, it spreads its wings, taking them and carrying them on its pinions (Deuteronomy 32:11)”
When reading Biblical translations, words often get lost in translation. This majestic bird is a great example. The Hebrew word “Nesher” (see Exodus 19:4 and Proverbs 30:19) is often translated into English as “Eagle” but it really means “Griffin Vulture”.
Fifty years ago, this bird of prey lived in almost all parts of Israel, but their numbers declined to the point where they went extinct in the North and only a few lived in the south. Today the birds are protected and monitored, and their numbers are growing (though they still remain critically endangered). They have even been reintroduced into the Golan Heights. The best place in Israel for tourists to view them is at the Gamla National Park, also home to one of the most fascinating archeology sites. Gamla also boasts Israel’s largest waterfall!
Nosson Shulman is a journalist and Licensed Tour Guide in Israel specializing in Biblical tours. To allow tourists to experience Israel during the Corona era, he created the new hit Israel tour video series, which brings Israel to the home of viewers by simulating actual tours. To check out his free sneak preview tour videos, click here. To view sample tour itineraries or to inquire about private tour opportunities with a personalized itinerary on your next trip to Israel, click here.
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