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Israeli use of barn owls to control rodents heading to N. Africa, UAE

‘We failed with the dove of peace. The barn owl is doing much better,’ says veteran ornithologist and project creator Yossi Leshem

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative photo of a Barn Owl. (photo credit: CC BY-SA paddynapper, Flickr)
Illustrative photo of a Barn Owl. (photo credit: CC BY-SA paddynapper, Flickr)

An Israeli project to use nesting boxes to attract barn owls and kestrels to control rodents instead of using chemicals is set to spread its wings to North Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

Veteran ornithologist Yossi Leshem, director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration, told a conference on Wednesday that the project, established in 2002, was being adopted by Prof. Imad Cherkaoui, a Moroccan ornithologist and landscape ecologist and former Morocco director for BirdLife International.

Cherkaoui is slated to serve as the project’s ambassador in North African countries with which Israel has no diplomatic relations, Leshem said.

He added that the United Arab Emirates’ climate change and environment minister had indicated that his country would also adopt the project, after meeting with Leshem at the Dubai Expo, which ended earlier this year.

“This is about how we want to see the Middle East,” Leshem told the confab on nature restoration (also known as rewilding), organized at Ramat Hanadiv by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, in partnership with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Konrad Adenauar Foundation.

“We failed with the dove of peace. The barn owl is doing much better.”

A single barn owl can devour some 2,600 rodents each year, Leshem explained, and a breeding pair could produce 17 chicks at a time.

The nesting boxes — thousands of which can be found around Israel — have spread to Jordan, where an enthusiast managed to convince locals to shed their superstitions that owls bring bad luck, the Palestinian Authority, Cyprus and Greece.

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