Lucky bird

Snake eagle chick saved from fire thanks to IDF conservation program

Nature Defense Force, launched five years ago, maps important nesting sites in firing-range areas to protect trees from brush fires

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Illustrative photo of a snake eagle chick. (Liad Cohen, Nature and Parks Authority)
Illustrative photo of a snake eagle chick. (Liad Cohen, Nature and Parks Authority)

A tiny snake eagle chick nesting in one of the world’s densest breeding sites for the species lived to see another day on Thursday thanks to an army project to prevent brush fires and protect wildlife.

A large fire broke out in the Lachish area of central Israel and began to spread toward a tree in which one of the snake eagle chicks was nesting.

But thanks to a fire retardant that had been sprayed around the tree during nesting season, the chick’s life was protected, officials said.

Flora and fauna thrive relatively well in the sparsely populated Lachish region in the western foothills of the Judean mountains. The area forms an important ecological corridor between the Mediterranean ecosystem of the hills and the Negev desert.

The area includes the Giv’at Gad Nature Reserve — one of the world’s prime nesting sites for snake eagles and long-legged buzzards, day hunters that play an important role in the local food chain.

However, brush fires are a constant threat here, mainly because of the army’s intensive use of the area for firing practice, but also due to careless hikers and occasional arsonists.

Five years ago, a project called the “Nature Defense Force — Commanders Take Responsibility for their Environment” — was launched by the army, the Defense Ministry, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

As part of the program, the NPA carries out annual surveys of nesting sites together with bird expert Dr Gilad Friedman in a study that also maps areas at high risk of fire.

According to Liad Cohen, regional supervisor of the Nature and Parks Authority, more than 15,000 dunams (3,700 acres) of wild land in the area have already been scorched this season but most of the chicks have been saved.

Cohen said the hope was that the chicks that survived would return one day as mature birds to mate themselves.

“Open spaces and wildlife habitats are shrinking every year and only by protecting our unique nature will we be able to enable the next generation to watch the fallow deer scampering on the hilltops and the snake eagles soaring in the sky,” Cohen said.

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