Gamla's Birds of Prey Prove Resilient After Fire

Shortly after a brush fire ravaged the Gamla Nature Reserve in the Golan Heights, in late May, destroying thousands of dunams of scrub and endangering the lives of several vulture chicks, rangers set out a carton holding four tortoises that did not survive the blaze.

Raptors in Gamla Reserve
Yaron Kaminsky

At the time, Israel Nature and Parks Authority Director Eli Amitay said it could be years before the reserve recovered from the damage.

But Gamla is already recovering, signaling that fire and destruction must make way for the insistent vitality of life.

The raptors have not abandoned the reserve, whose vulture population has become all but extinct.

A short-toed eagle nested on a tree that was almost entirely scorched; a chick had hatched in the nest just a few days after the fire.

In the last few days a Griffon's vulture that lives in the wild has been visiting the vulture chicks in the acclimatization cage, prior to their release.

Other vultures beat the air with their wings, proclaiming their victory over the flames.

Other raptors, too, showed an impressive ability to survive the fire, said the ecologist for the Gamla reserve, Yael Horesh.

"Three pairs of Egyptian vultures continued to nest, two of them in nests located in a cliff that was largely scorched," she said yesterday. "In another nest there are two chicks that hatched before the fire and survived."

Rangers have seen gazelles on the scorched land on several occasions, and there are many storks. But they say that they have yet to see any sign of wolves, jackals and porcupines, among other mammals that make the reserve their home.

On the day of the fire rangers rescued vulture chicks in an acclimatization cage just before the flames reached them. The chicks will be released into the wild when they are three years old, as part of an effort to reintroduce raptors to the area.

Nature and Parks Authority officials have expressed concerned over the long-term impact of the fire on vulture populations in Gamla, an important nesting site.

Authorities believe that the blaze, which broke out on May 27, was ignited by sparks created when the metal tracks of an Israel Defense Forces tank rolled moving over rocks.

Strong winds quickly fanned the fire, which in a few hours destroyed much of the park's vegetation and threatened to destroy the cages.