bat reserve - Eran Amichai - 10012012
A 'bat reserve' at a disused IDF base in the Jordan Valley. Photo by Eran Amichai
Text size

What do you do with a bunch of abandoned army outposts? Turn them into nature reserves for bats, of course.

Or at least, that's what will happen if the Israel Nature and Parks Authority gets its way.

The authority is trying to convince the Defense Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration to turn dozens of abandoned outposts in the Jordan Valley into nature reserves, after discovering that they have become home to no fewer than 12 species of bats - one-third of all the species found in Israel.

Parks authority ecologist Noam Leader presented the outpost plan two weeks ago during an annual conference to unveil the parks authority's plans for the year. The army outposts - some of which hold hundreds of bats, while others house thousands - were abandoned after Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994.

Leader said the Defense Ministry and the ILA have said they like the idea in principle, but nothing has been formalized yet.

While some of the outposts are already located in nature reserves, the parks authority wants several other outposts turned into reserves as well. That would let the agency control activities that could harm the bats, like tourism or the use of agricultural pesticides.

The insect-eating bats are a from of biological pest control that reduces the need for chemical pesticides, the researchers said. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority all use the Jordan Valley for agriculture.

The bats used to live in the Jordan Valley's many natural caves, but were forced to seek new homes when shepherds began using them. The bats now live in the abandoned outposts in the spring and summer, and even raise their young there.

Two researchers from Tel Aviv University, Eran Levin and Eran Amichai, have been studying the outposts' bat population for the last four years, with support from the parks authority. Their most recent survey found 12 species of bats there, including some, like Blasius' horseshoe bat and the greater horseshoe bat, for which the Jordan Valley lies at the very edge of their known habitat - meaning they are more vulnerable to even small disruptions.

Unlike natural caves, the outposts are short of places for the bats to roost, so the researchers and the parks authority have been installing artificial roosts.