Who Will Save Israel's Mountain Goats?

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A baby ibex.Credit: Amit Schejter

The ibexes that live in the Negev and in the Judean Desert have long since ceased to stick closely to high cliffs or keep their distance from humans. In recent years, they have been regular visitors to towns and communities like Mitzpeh Ramon and the Midreshet Sde Boker educational center. They eat scraps of food they find in the garbage and are often seen right next to roads. If you arrive at Mitzpeh Ramon from the east, you have a good chance of seeing one of these wild mountain goats standing on a concrete fence abutting a road on which cars pass. This behavior can have serious consequences, as was the case last month at Midreshet Sde Boker, during a visit of students to the educational center adjacent to Kibbutz Sde Boker.

The students’ guide was Prof. Yoram Yom-Tov from Tel Aviv University, who has spent many years studying wild animals in Israel. “We visited a place where ibexes habitually come to enjoy shade and food,” he told me. “We were standing next to the center’s entry road, not far from a few female ibexes, and I was talking about them. As I was speaking, I noticed another herd of females running quickly toward the cliff, being chased by a dog. The ibexes managed to get to the slope and the dog went back toward the center.”

The students got into cars and continued on their way. “As we were driving, a female ibex about five years old darted onto the road, with the same dog giving rapid chase,” Yom-Tov related. “The ibex was frightened, didn’t notice the cars and collided with one of them with great force. She fell to the ground, bleeding from the nose, and died. She was in the late stages of pregnancy.”

One of the students, Or Buchbut, wrote afterward in a post that the dog belonged to a family present at the site. “The dog went back to sit with the family and we stood there helpless, trying to assist a dying ibex. But she was seriously injured and there was nothing we could do for her. We stood there, a group of students and lecturers, with tears in our eyes, and moved her body quietly off the road. We learned the hard way a lesson about preserving nature and about how easily we cause damage.”

An ibex killed after being run over, at Sde Boker. Fewer than 2,000 of the mountain goats are left in Israel.Credit: David David

The phenomenon of ownerless dogs wandering about throughout the country is widespread, and the authorities are not doing enough to deal with the problem, Yom-Tov said. In the case of Midreshet Sde Boker, there appears to be an equally grave problem: people who haven’t abandoned their dogs but who don’t take responsibility for their behavior. Ibexes and other animals in danger of extinction pay the price.

There are fewer than 2,000 ibexes in Israel today. Although it is the only country in the region in which they are protected by law, they still face numerous threats, not least hunting in the Judean Desert. Dependence on food originating with humans is also a problem. Half a year ago, the Nature and Parks Authority reported on an ibex that that was found in Mitzpeh Ramon, thin and with a distended stomach. The ibex was taken for treatment to the Ben Shemen Monkey Park, where there was appropriate medical equipment. It turned out that the animal’s stomach was crammed with five kilograms of plastic bags, ropes and wet wipes, all of which made eating difficult. The treatment saved it from death. But other ibexes have died in recent years after taking their nourishment from garbage.

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