Wildlife Study in Ein Gedi Threatened by Preservation Plan

But nature authority to take action on thorny dilemma.

A project to preserve rare vegetation at Ein Gedi has been altered after scientists complained that the plan could endanger an ongoing ecological study in the same area.

The plant-preservation project sponsored by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority relates to rare types of vegetation brought to Ein Gedi from Sudan - including mini tropical trees that once flourished in the region but became extinct. It had been decided to erect a fence around the saplings to protect them from foraging animals, but the same area is also the locus of a long-term study by researchers from Tel Aviv University on desert rodents.

The scientists, Prof. Tamar Dayan and Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Schor, said erecting the fence would compromise their study.

"Our research study examines ecological questions such as the influence of various processes on climate change," said Prof. Dayan. "There is concern that the study will be compromised should there be planting in the area and should a fence be mounted around it. Fortunately, Nature and Parks Authority officials agreed that it is important to continue with this study, and so it has been decided that the area will not be fenced off."

Israel Nature and Parks Authority director general Shaul Goldstein said: "I asked our professional experts to review the researchers' request. I think there is a need to persist with this research and that it is not necessary to erect a fence around the saplings. Should the need arise, we'll defend each individual tree."

The decision not to erect a fence and instead to create a buffer zone free of saplings has stirred worries among professionals about the future of the plant-renewal project. Among other things, they are concerned about the protection of the young trees.

The project involves hundreds of saplings, including rare strains of broom brush (leptadenia pyrotechnica ) that disappeared from Israel. Another plant type that has been cultivated anew in this project is capparis decidua.

The original decision to erect a fence was taken when animals that roam the Ein Gedi reserve, such as wild goats and rock hyraxes, entered the sapling area and started to nibble on the young trees. The saplings were wrapped in metal nets for protection, but the animals kept trying to eat them. So it was decided to erect a fence around the sapling area to protect the trees for a number of years until they were strong enough to survive the foraging animals.