Boxed In, Jerusalem-area Gazelle Population in Danger

As the city grows, 300-400 of the mammals have to make do with less free land and more predators.

Gazelles in Jerusalem's Lifta.
Yossi Zamir

Half the gazelles in the Jerusalem area are living in enclosed areas, endangering their future, according to a report to be presented Tuesday in Jerusalem.

According to a survey carried out over the past year, between 300 and 400 gazelles are living in and around Jerusalem, constituting one-tenth of all the gazelles in Israel. About 150 of them are living in enclosed enclaves, and cannot move to other areas. Road development, construction of new neighborhoods and the security barrier are the main factors that have encircled areas where the gazelles live.

The report was written by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Jerusalem municipality and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

According to the report, the Mei Neftoach (Lifta) hill northwest of Jerusalem is critical for the gazelles. Construction there, as the Finance Ministry and the Planning Administration want, would seriously damage the gazelle population of northern Jerusalem.

The largest number of gazelles was observed in Lifta and nearby Arazim valley, where they are confined by the main roads to Jerusalem and the neighborhoods of Ramot and Mevasseret Zion. Between Mevasseret Zion and the separation barrier is a very narrow corridor the gazelles use to reach open spaces west of the city. But the corridor is sensitive to disruptions.

“It’s enough for someone to open a playground with lighting to change the situation,” said Shmulik Yadov, director of the SPNI’s mammal center. Last year the herd at Lifta had to deal with the major fire that destroyed most of the hill. The older ones managed to flee, but it is believed that half the population was killed.

Gazelles also live near Neveh Ya’akov and Pisgat Ze’ev, northeast of Jerusalem. There, they are hemmed in completely between the neighborhoods and the separation barrier. They are also divided into two different herds that hardly ever meet.

According to the report, while the separation barrier has reduced hunting, the reduction in their living space and separation of the two herds has put them at risk. Packs of dogs also roam the area and prey on the gazelles. The survey team noted a particular decline in the number of young gazelles in this area, apparently due to predation.

In southern Jerusalem, a wide corridor westward has been preserved for the gazelles living in the Rephaim Valley. Another small herd lives between the Har Homa neighborhood and the separation barrier south of Jerusalem, and another near Kibbutz Ramat Rachel.

A small herd lives fairly securely in Gazelle Valley, a park in the heart of the city created for the animals.

The split between herds inhabiting closed enclaves is bad for two reasons. This leads to inbreeding, which can restrict their gene pool over time and endanger their future. But a more serious problem is that an enclosed herd finds it harder to bounce back from extreme events such as wildfires or feral dog incursions.

The problem of gazelles and other mammals cut off from each other is not particular to the Jerusalem area only.

“Our observations and research show that even a narrow ecological corridor connecting populations can significantly improve things and every development program should take this into consideration,” said Ariel Kedem, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority head ranger for west Jerusalem.

“We realize that we have to think about the future of the gazelles and so we’ve started to cooperate,” the Jerusalem municipal ecologist, Yaara Israeli, added.