Arava Desert, Israel
I just graduated from an Ecology degree and got some time off, so I decided to spend my time volunteering in Israel at the Desert Wildlife Program. I have worked in a tropical Nature Reserve before and it would be interesting to learn about the desert wildlife through this opportunity.
Desert takes up almost 33% of the Earth land surface. Although it has much less species than tropical region, it is home to many endangered species and has an important role in evolution which has lead to the high diversity of animal life.
I always wanted to visit Israel, it is such a beautiful country, it’s multicultural, multi-faith, and the amazing people there really attract me. Israel as a desert country contains an extreme diverse flora and fauna; this is due to its geographical location. Israel is situated between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, therefore Asian and African species have mixed together and evolved into many endemic species that are only found in Israel. Unfortunately, due to hunting and loss of habitat, many species have become extinct or extinct in the wild.
The Desert Wildlife Program has successfully established a population for the Arabian Oryx and Scimitar Oryx that were originally extinct from the wild because of hunting for their horns. The population for Arabian Oryx is now high enough to release into the wild.
We woke up at around 6:30am and waited for the bus to the Kibbutz at 7am. Staffs from Hai-Bar then picked us up from the bus stop and took us to the Nature Reserve. We then divided into two teams, one team to take care of the animals in the “tunnel” and one for the Desert Night Life.
These animals are all herbivores and include bats, spiny mouse, desert jird, porcupine, desert tortoise, lizards, fat sand rat, and more. We also cleaned the windows of the predators’ cage. The other team would feed the raptors and maintain the cage of other predators. These animals included the kestrel, barn owl, eagle owl, Blanford’s fox, caracal, sand fox, jackal, and red fox. Our usual work was to clean out their excrement and fill the water and also clean the windows.
These predators have been hunted for their fur, skin, and feathers, and are now extremely endangered. In the afternoon, we have various tasks. Sometimes we would get in the jeep and go on a safari trip to count the population of ostrich, oryx and addax in each different territory. We would sometimes collect vegetables from a supermarket in Eilat and do some general maintenance. We also had times where we would prepare food for the cheetah, hyena, leopard, wold etc. We would usually return to the Kibbutz at around 15:30. There was a swimming pool, soccer pitch and internet free to use.
The most unforgettable experience was to clear out the smelly, murky water and soil in the predator centre after a rainstorm that lead to severe flood. A year’s rainfall was recorded overnight. The sandy ground cannot drain all the water and the water had raised to knee level! The whole predator centre was closed to visitors and we had to clear out the water in 3 days. We used buckets, shovels, and pipes to remove the water and silt. It was a challenging task; some of us stepped on the thorny Acacia twig and got hurt. Nevertheless, we finally cleared out the water and the animals could return to their cages.
In the weekends, we traveled around Israel. We went snorkeling in the beautiful Coral Beach Nature Reserve in Eilat and swam with sergeant fish and parrot fish.
I also went to Petra with some volunteers for 2 days, exploring the ancient Nabataeans civilisation; its awestruck architecture really amazed me.
I also traveled with Abraham Tours to Masada, Dead Sea, EinGedi, Bethleham, Jerusalem. I really enjoyed the visits to the Old City and museums in Jerusalem.
Overall, it is a rewarding journey; I learnt a lot about some Biblical animals and experienced the harmony between different religions.