Gazelle - Amir Balaban - January 2012
A gazelle grazes near the Barkan Winery in the Judean Hills. Photo by Amir Balaban
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Gazelles may once again roam the slopes of the Judean Hills west of Jerusalem freely, now that Barkan Wine Cellars have agreed to remove the fences they put up in the region.

The fence removal came at the request of animal rights groups, who said they were endangering already squeezed wildlife in the area.

Several months ago, Barkan built fences around new vineyards in the Beit Nekofa area to protect them from animals that eat the vines. But the fencing created death traps for wild animals, the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and Let the Animals Live said.

SPNI said the area is an important ecological corridor through which animals, including gazelles, can move. The corridor has already narrowed due to the building of the separation fence to its north, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway to its south and small towns. In many cases, the animals get injured when they run into the fencing. When gazelles become entangled in the fences, they become easy prey for predators like hyenas, jackals and feral dogs.

Following the organizations' request, the winery entered into negotiations with them and recently the two sides signed an agreement to have the fences in the Beit Nekofa area removed immediately. Barkan has already taken down some of the fences. The agreement, however, does not apply to other areas the winery may consider fencing, Haaretz has learned.

Barkan Wine Cellars and Tempo, the winery's major share owner, agreed to protect the vineyards with plastic sheets instead of fences. They also agreed to set up a joint team with the organizations to examine ways of minimizing the harm to the vineyards, while ensuring the gazelle population's protection.

"The problem exists in other areas as well and it is important to find a long-term solution for it," a SPNI spokesman said on Wednesday.

Barkan Wine Cellars said so far no evidence was found to corroborate the claim that the fences endanger the gazelles and undertook an effort to raise money to investigate the claim.

"The company has always advocated social and environmental responsibility," Barkan said. "We are proud to pioneer the wine industry in taking maximum means to protect animals and conducting productive work relations with all the parties involved."