Old Israel Defense Forces outposts along the Jordanian border have new occupants who, unlike soldiers, don't mind living there throughout the year or taking the night shift - in fact, they even prefer working at night.
These newcomers are bats, of as many as 12 species, who have settled into the scores of concrete outposts and bunkers decommissioned in the wake of the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement.
The bat colonies were discovered by Eran Levin, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University and a researcher at the mammal center of the Society of the Protection of Nature in Israel, and ranger Abim Atar, of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
The study conducted by the pair found that some 20 bunkers, which were located by using maps provided by the IDF, have been serving as homes for the last two decades for a dozen kinds of bats, some of which are listed as endangered, including the Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat and Geoffroy's Bat.
The researchers also found that despite their popularity, the bunkers have been somewhat problematic for the bats, not due to a lack of warm showers or air conditioning, but because of a lack of somewhere to hang on to. The concrete ceiling of the bunkers is too smooth for the bats to suspend themselves from, so they have been dangling from wiring and pipes instead.
Researchers from SPNI, the parks authority and the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, along with the IDF Jordan Valley division, decided to join forces to support the bat population and to remodel the bunkers - with some outside help.
"Thanks to Bat Conservation International and the Ford Foundation, we were able to begin making the bunkers a better home for the bats," said Levin. "We've used planks, whitewashed surfacing mixed with gravel, plastic nets and ropes to make the ceilings more accessible for them. It turns out that every species has a preference in terms of materials and location, so we were able to encourage rarer bats to come and not just support the more widespread species."
The bats took well to the refurbished bunkers, and were recorded to be flying near and far - not just in Israel, but across the river in Jordan and in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.
"They're eating insects and are helping farmers all along the [Jordan] valley: Bats don't recognize borders," one researcher quipped.
SPNI director Dr. Amit Dolev told Haaretz that, "Israel provides a unique habitat for bats, many of whom are endangered the world over. It's important to keep monitoring them, and to determine how they can best be protected."
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