Mountain gazelle makes Golan comeback after tough times

Regional antelope species, considered a symbol of Israel, marks 3rd year of encouraging increase

The endangered mountain gazelle. (Wikimedia Commons/Bassem18)
The endangered mountain gazelle. (Wikimedia Commons/Bassem18)

The mountain gazelle, a symbol of Israel long on the endangered species list, has made an impressive comeback on the Golan Heights as, for the third straight year, its population has increased.

After a laborious process involving dozens of volunteer inspectors armed with binoculars and maps trudging across the rocky Golan in search of gazelles, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority officially declared that 328 specimens now live on the Heights — a 25% increase.

“This increase now completes three years of moderate improvement in gazelle numbers,” Sharon Levy, one of the inspectors, told Maariv. “We are now able to talk about some moderate recovery, particularly in the southern Golan Heights.”

The fate of the mountain gazelle, a slender, quick-footed antelope found across the Arabian Peninsula and Levant, has been particularly rocky in the Golan Heights. When the Israel Defense Forces seized the plateau from Syria in 1967, only 300 gazelle remained. Hoping to save the struggling population, the Nature and Parks Authority transferred the remaining gazelle to Ramat Issachar, south of the Sea of Galilee.

Within 17 years the population had made a staggering recovery, multiplying to 5,000 members.

But once again tragedy struck, as a foot and mouth epidemic forced the government to curb gazelle growth in order to protect threatened domesticated livestock. Killed in large numbers by hired hunters, the gazelle never recovered and herd populations plummeted.

“In the wild, every third baby deer is expected to advance beyond infancy,” Levy explained, “but in this situation, only 3 to 5 percent of newborns survive. Predators are largely to blame at this point: wolves and foxes in particular. Now we are trying to curb their populations.”

Friends of the mountain gazelle hope for a new revival and a better future for the endangered creature.

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