Conservation Targets Ancient, Rare Crab Amid Water Crisis

In the early hours of last Wednesday, there was feverish activity in a little spring next to the Kinneret, called Ein Nur. A group of people went into the spring and for a long time searched frantically for something. The object of the search was a small animal that is shy and retiring, one of the most rare creatures not only in Israel but in all the world.

The animal in question is "Sumit Hagalil" (Typhlocaris Galilaea ), which has recently been accorded the kind of respect that very few wild creatures get. The best technological equipment, including a special robot, sophisticated cameras and sensors were employed to follow it.

The people who looked for it last week from the Nature and Parks Authority and the Biblical Zoo of Jerusalem collected five crabs, which they transferred to the zoo. All this activity is intended to set up a reproductive nucleus in captivity to save the species, in case those that remain in nature are in danger of extinction.

The Sumit Hagalil species is an ancient survivor of a population that once lived in the sea that then covered the entire area of Galilee. It feeds on humus and on small creatures, and since its eyes have completely atrophied, it moves with the aid of antennae and two pairs of pincers. The rare crab has survived only in one place on the entire globe - at Ein Nur and the system of burrows that lies alongside it.

In the wake of the water crisis that has recently been felt in Israel, there is a fear that the amount of freshwater that reaches the spring will be lessened and that the composition of the water will change in a manner that could jeopardize this creature's future, since it developed in conditions that combine warm saline water with freshwater.

"It is difficult for me to talk about this crab and not get excited, since the way it is being protected portrays everything there is in the activities aimed at saving nature," says Dr. Noam Lidar , the Nature and Parks Authority's chief ecologist. "This is an amazing creature that has survived from a prehistoric era, and it is part of an subterranean world of which we know only a minute fraction. We are planning to shortly set up an underground monitoring system that will make it possible for us to follow it 24 hours per day, every day of the year."

In cooperation with the Mekorot water company that is responsible for the spring, the authority will send a diver into the system of underground cavities to install cameras and sensors. "The sensors will make it possible for us to keep track of the conditions there and to know if there is a change that causes the situation to deteriorate," Lidar explains. Before it began its current activity, the authority introduced a special robot into the cavities under the spring and is following the crabs.

Sumit Hagalil specimen
Daniel Bar-On

Gathering the crabs from the spring last week was the first stage in the enterprise, at the end of which 20 crabs will be transferred to the reproductive nucleus at the Biblical Zoo. "That was like going into the secret cave of Hasamaba," said the zoo's director, Shai Doron, referring to the children's adventure novels chronicling a secret group from pre-state Tel-Aviv. "If someone had been watching us without knowing what we were doing, for sure he would have mocked us quite a bit. Three adults looking in the dark for a blind crab! Despite the fact that they are blind, the crabs are sensitive to any movement and a long time elapsed under the water until we were able to trap them," Doron says.

At the advice of the biologist Prof. Moshe Tsurnamal, one of the first people to meet up with the blind crab, the zoo's staff also collected water from the spring so that the crabs would have suitable conditions for their needs. The Mekorot officials specially drew several cubic meters of water from the spring that was placed in a container brought from the zoo. The blind crabs will join other rare species at the zoo that live in pools, for which the Biblical Zoo is trying to set up reproductive nuclei.