In a few years, hikers at the Hula Lake marsh will be able to sample locally produced buffalo mozzarella. The birth of the first water buffalo calf at the marsh yesterday was a significant milestone in efforts to increase the existing herd and attract new visitors to the site. Effi Naim, director of the Jewish National Fund project in the Hula marsh says, "We decided to bring buffalos to the site three years ago as part of the concept of reconstructing life at the lake before it was drained."
A 600-dunam plot with a small swamp at its center was allocated to the reconstruction project. Plants that surrounded the former lake, including reeds and papyrus, will be planted and a small village of thatch huts, like those used by the Bedouin before Israel's founding, will be built.
Naim says, "The growing buffalo herd will be a vital part of the reconstruction. We know that the Awarna [Bedouin] tribe from Sudan and Egypt, who lived in the Hula region, produced dairy products from buffalo milk. The buffalo was a semi-domestic animal that lived here before the lake was drained."
The first seven female buffalo calves were brought to the marsh from the Hula nature reserve but project organizers decided to import a bull calf from Italy. "Not because of the temperamental reputation of Italian males, but because of my desire to introduce new blood in the herd," Naim explains.
Much of the reconstructed landscape is already mature and exquisite. Ezra Yasur directs the ongoing landscaping project. Most of the dozens of species that he tends to come from botanical gardens in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Pathways and small, wooden bridges will permit hikers to bypass plants as they cross canals and puddles.
Officials hope the marsh's natural inhabitants will return on their own to join buffalos and newly reintroduced plants. The shidmit adumat kanaf (Collard Pratincole, Glareola pratincola) has already returned to nest in the area after a prolonged absence that began when the lake was drained.
"We are creating a suitable habitat and waiting for nature to take over, though we are fully aware that certain species have disappeared forever and will not return. We would like to tell those who took a powder, or flapped a wing, 'We rehabilitated your home. We invite you to return to us,'" Naim concludes.