Last Goodbye

It's time the government put conservation on the national list of priorities, along with diplomatic goals.

The Negev osprey, Israel's largest bird, will not be with us much longer. For thousands of years, this proud raptor from the eagle family soared majestically on high, scanning the desert below for prey and nesting in cliff-top aeries. After human activities pushed the species to the brink of extinction, an attempt was made to ensure its survival by raising the raptor in captivity. But even the specimens intended to be a breeding nucleus for release into nature are dying out, according to the Nature and National Parks Authority.

Ironically, the news of the Negev osprey's sad fate comes at the start of 2010, which the United Nations has declared the International Year of Biodiversity, during which conservation organizations around the globe will act to raise awareness of the rapid disappearance of innumerable species of flora and fauna and find ways of stopping it. Wild animals need protection from the kind of thing that led to the destruction of the Negev ospreys; they were shot, poisoned and electrocuted on high-tension wires until they ceased to exist in nature, as detailed by conservationist Uzi Paz in his book "Laabda velishomra, Shmirat Hateva Beyisrael" (To cultivate it and to protect it, conservation of nature in Israel).

To this day, the Israeli environment is being contaminated by industrial pollutants, leading to the poisoning of countless wild animals, and illegal hunting is rife. A no less menacing development is the ceaseless march of concrete and asphalt as open areas become built up, destroying natural habitats or cutting across them in a manner that so restricts animals' movement, they can no longer survive.

Israel has the potential of being a true gem when it comes to biodiversity. Despite its smallness, it is immeasurably rich in flora and fauna compared to many much larger countries in the Middle East and Europe. This is due to the great variety of terrain and ecosystems, and to the great efforts of recent decades to preserve what remains after the depredations of rapid development.

Protection of the wild requires more than the declaration of nature preserves. It demands a different approach to how we plan development and construction, and strict enforcement of regulations against toxic materials and illegal hunting. It demands the allocation of resources to establish, for example, feeding stations for birds of prey, protecting them from high-tension cables, and creating new artificial ponds to replace the natural winter pools that have been built over. Paradoxically, to conserve nature today, humans must engage in actively managing it, and the more the different species begin multiplying, the easier it will be for them to survive, and we will be able to limit our intervention.

It's time the government put conservation on the national list of priorities, along with diplomatic goals, combating unemployment and improving health and education. Many other countries have done so and acted to slow down or halt the extinction of wild plants and animals. While the goal is, unfortunately, far from having been achieved, at least resources are now being allocated and many governments are committed to taking action.

A worthy goal in itself, the conservation of biodiversity will also help in achieving other economic and educational goals. It means preservation of the country and its landscapes, improving the quality of life by ensuring a pollutant-free environment, clean water, better agriculture and - no less important - it provides both inspiration and a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment, which have no substitutes in either computer games or Hollywood's 3-D animated blockbusters.