Israel's Gazelles in Grave Danger of Extinction, International NGO Warns

The population of the Israeli gazelle has dwindled by 70 percent over the last 15 years.

Dorom Nissim

The population of the Israeli gazelle (Gazella gazelle) has dwindled by 70 percent over the last 15 years, and the threat of its extinction is defined as very grave. This was established by a committee of experts of the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the international body charged with assessing extinction risks for various species of flora and fauna. This organization’s determinations are supposed to lead to the taking of steps that will protect species that are at high risk.

In a document disseminated this week by Dr. David Mellon, who heads an IUCN committee of experts on species such as deer, he recommends changing the status of this gazelle from “vulnerable” to “endangered.”

This decision was based on analysis of data which was sent to the organization by Nature and Parks Authority. The data shows that early in the last decade there were around 10,000 gazelles in the country, but their numbers dropped to only 3,000 by 2008. The Nature and Parks Authority says that the numbers this year are closer to 2,000. They estimate that there are 1,000 additional ones in areas in which gazelles were not counted.

The scientific importance of this gazelle has grown following a study conducted by the nature authority along with the School for Veterinary Medicine at the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at Hebrew University. The study found that this gazelle is unique to Israel and a few surrounding countries. In adjacent countries it is already extinct, except for a group of 200 in Turkey. If it disappears in Israel, the species will become extinct.

Gazelles in Israel have been crowded into small pockets, surrounded by roads and fences. In some areas their already small habitat will diminish further with the completion of further construction. One such area is a planned new neighborhood on the Mitzpeh Nafto’ah hill, west of Jerusalem.

In response to the IUCN’s decision, attorney Rachel Adam, a Jerusalem resident who opposes the construction of this neighborhood, said: “It’s frightening to think that this iconic animal will soon disappear. The IUCN should be thanked for giving a timely warning while it is still possible to change direction. Everyone in Israel can act to prevent the extinction of this and other species and take part in a national effort to overcome the wave of extinctions that threatens the globe.”

The Society for Protection of Nature in Israel said: “The damage to the gazelle population stems from the chopping up of their habitats due to construction, paving of roads and erection of fences. They are also impacted by increased predation due to poor sanitation that facilitates growth in the number of predators and feral dogs. Animals are also killed by hunters and cars. It is therefore vital to maintain contiguous open areas and ecological corridors, especially in gazelle habitats. Unnecessary development in these areas should be avoided.”