Israel Joins International Bat Night

Survey finds 26 species of nocturnal mammal around country.

Yossi Yovel

Today animal lovers the world over will be celebrating International Bat Night, and Israel will also be marking its recent decision to join The Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats – Eurobats.

The first national survey found 26 species of insect bats in various places in Israel. The findings indicate that along with bats’ ability to take advantage of sites such as abandoned buildings and military outposts, they are forced to deal with various threats, including tourists in caves used by several species.

The survey was carried out recently by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. They kept track of 64 sites, including some on the other side of the Green Line. “Bats constitute about a third of the mammal species in Israel and make an important contribution to the ecological and agricultural systems, which is why it’s very important to protect them,” said Dr. Noam Leader, the INPA’s chief ecologist. One important function is natural pest control of insects that cause damage to agriculture.

The survey found bats not only in the expected places such as caves and natural pits, but also in a variety of structures, including abandoned military outposts in the Golan Heights, an old Syrian army headquarters and abandoned outposts along the Jordan Valley. Some of the bats gather in large numbers in isolated spots, which is why harming a single colony can cause significant damage, with serious implications for the survival of the animals. The authors of the survey called on the defense establishment to demand that contractors carrying out work in the area of the outposts follow strict procedures.

In an abandoned yeshiva building on the outskirts of Shadmot Mehola in the Jordan Valley a breeding colony of one species, as well as hundreds of individuals from two other species, were found. Here too there is a fear that new construction plans will endanger the bats.

Last week another use of buildings by bats was revealed when a renovations firm discovered over 100 bats in a house in Ashkelon. They were taken by an INPA inspector and first transferred for observation to the Israeli Wildlife Hospital in the Ramat Gan Safari park, then released into nature in the Beit Guvrin National Park.

One prominent finding was a decline in the number of bats in several large cave concentrations, for example the Alma Cave in the Galilee with the largest variety of species, where the numbers declined from thousands to hundreds within a few years, and in the past two years to fewer than 100.

There is a theory that this is related to the large number of visitors to the cave and the disturbances they cause. The authority has been denying entry to the caves during the bats’ winter hibernation. But in the past two years researchers have concluded that the bats in the Galilee caves do not hibernate, and the sensitive period is the breeding season in spring and early summer.

Due to these findings the INPA may expand restrictions against tourists. The present survey has already recommended denying access to tourists in the cave in Nahal Kalya, in order to prevent harm to the bat colony there.