Back Into the Wild

The baby gazelles that hikers find in the hills and take to zoos, and the owls that fall from their nests now have one more reason not to lose hope. They too may soon be able to return to nature, thanks to the expanding efforts of the staff at Ramat Hanadiv to return wild animals to their native habitats.

Ramat Hanadiv, located south of Zichron Yaakov, is supervised by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. It has a special program for caring for injured or abandoned wild animals. Bill Woodley, a field zoologist whose work for years has involved the management, breeding and monitoring of wildlife, takes them in and tries to raise them in appropriate conditions until they can be returned to the wild.

People come to Ramat Hanadiv from all over the country, bringing to Woodley barn owls, long-eared owls and other birds of prey as well as badgers, marbled polecats, and recently even a hyena.

"We try to raise them so that they don't get too used to close contact with humans," Woodley explained.

In a big cage housing all the birds of prey, Woodley installed one-way glass with small openings, so that the caregivers can watch the birds and feed them, without the birds seeing them.

"The hyena was hit by the driver of an SUV who called the Parks Authority," Woodley said. "His injuries were treated and he was brought here, where he is in a special cage. I never see him when during feeding. He is monitored by a camera at night. I hope he can be returned to the wild within a few weeks."

Many common and lesser kestrels are brought to the park. One of the common kestrels was released, but maintains the special relationship he developed with Woodley, following his car and occasionally stealing food from the kestrels that are still being cared for. "He also serves as my lookout, because he makes noises every time he sees an animal coming," Woodley said.

Owls that are released from the park can use the nesting boxes set up for them nearby. The case of the Eurasian griffon vultures that were raised in the park exempify the difficulty of returning animals to the wild. After their release they began landing on the roofs of the houses in an adjacent residential area of Zichron Yaakov, and were later joined by other vultures. Their enclosure was eventually moved to the other side of the park, after residents complained.

Last week Ramat Hanadiv staff released four Israeli Gazelle fawns that had been brought in by hikers who mistakenly thought that they had been abandoned by their mothers. This happens every year, but the Parks Authority decided this time to try returning the animals to nature, rather than placing them in zoos or petting zoos.

Unfortunately, there was no happy ending for these fawns, all four of which died not far from where they were released.

"They apparently weren't prepared for the conditions outside the park," Woodley said. "I think next time we'll try keeping them in an enclosure close to the area where they are to be released, so that they can become accustomed to the sounds and smells and other animals in the area."

The Parks Authority advises against touching or treating an injured or abandoned wild animal, recommending that the authority be informed.