Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gamla National Park, July 2010, after fire in late May

Howard and I try to get to Gamla each summer we are in Israel. It is one of his favorite places.  It is a national park on the central Golan Heights and has 4 purposes: 
     It is a lovely place to hike with a beautiful waterfall.
     On the way in are dolmas from ancient cultures--thousands of years old
     Gamla itself is an ancient city, mostly known for its rebellion against the Romans where more people
       died than at Masada.  For details, go to:
         (I've written about it before so won't go into details on this blog)
     A memorial to all of those who died for Israel from communities on the Golan.

Each time I go, I visit the memorial.

Top of Memorial overlooking Gamla and Kinneret in background
 I lived at Kibbutz Merom Golan from 1972 to 1974.  In November, 1972 during a shelling from Syria, a kibbutz member, Micha Fichman, saved my life.  The place I was standing in the laundry received a direct hit just 5 minutes after he warned me and others to get out.  He died a few hours later after being hit by anti-personnel schrapnel outside of the kibbutz garage.

Micha's name is in the center
In addition to Micha Fichman who died in November, 1972, 4 members of our kibbutz died in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.  All volunteered to serve.  They include Avremeleh Neinshtein Menachem Odem (mentioned above and melow Micha).
Memorial to Merom Golan fallen
Also Yaakov (Menchi) Re-i and Kobi Rabinobitz--all in the right hand column above.

As we drove past Kibbutz Ein Gev, we saw signs of another fire.  Unfortunately, fires are not uncommon during the summer in Israel due to the lack of rain for 5 months or so.

Signs of Fire past Ein Gev--note "fisherman "on the hill

Blacked earth east of Ein Gev
We expecially wanted to visit this year because of the fire on the Golan around Gamla on May 27 (2010). The fire erupted at about 2:00 a.m. and is thought to have wiped out virtually all the vegetation in the reserve's open spaces, burning over 2500 acres. It was started during army exercises in the area ignited by sparks created when the metal tracks of an Israel Defense Forces tank rolled moving over rocks.

Blackened hill on the Golan on the way to Gamla
A few days before our ride north we heard a program on TV about the problem with cattle on the Golan.  Kibbutz Merom Golan has a huge beef herd that feeds on the central Golan.  The fire spooked many of the heads of cattle and also burnt the natural food, so the kibbutz is having to pay for feed, which is costing them a lot of money.  We saw some of the cattle on our way up.

Cattle on hilltop--notice sign for Merom Golan

more cattle grazing
When we arrived at Gamla, signs of the fire were everywhere.

burnt area near ruins of Deir Qeruh village--
Christian village of 4th and 5th centuries, etc

new plant among devastation

new growth under singed trees

Singed trees--live plants burn less quickly than dead ones
 In 2007, over 50 of the vultures in the area died from poisoning.  Local farmers were setting out poison to kill wolves, etc that were attacking their cattle.  The wolves ate the poison, died, and then the vultures ate the wolves and died....more than 50 at one site alone.  Negotiations with the farmers have resulted in a different way to stop the wolves.    Other vultures died from eating metal in the area that they mistook for food.

Items taken from stomach of dead vulture, 2005

Meanwhile, the population of vultures in the area, which as late as 2003 numbered 200 is now down to 30 at most.  Vultures are monogamous.  The female lays just one egg a year.  At most 30% of the eggs are hatched and survive their first few months.  Other animals in the area (including eagles who love to eat the eggs) are a danger.  Usually one of the parent vultures is always on the egg, but one video I saw showed that when one was absent for 40 minutes, eagles managed to crack and drain the egg.

If one egg does not "make" it, the female vulture will lay a "reserve" egg.  To take advantage of this, the National Parks Authority began a program in 2008 in which they removed the first egg from nests and replaced it with a dummy egg. 

It took the vultures several days to realized that the egg was not real, and then another egg was laid.  The removed egg was taken to the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem where it was hatched in an incubator.  When the fledglings were big enough, they were retured to a special cage in Gamla.  80 to 90% of these birds survive.

sign regarding rehab cages

Telephoto pic of cage of fledglings
During the fire, the Nature and Parks Authority safely evacuated 15 vultures that were being held in an acclimation cage on the reserve. They first moved them to an emergency area and then back to the original site and the fire approached the emergency area. The vultures were hatched in captivity as part of a project to enlarge the local vulture population, which is in danger of extinction.

When the vultures are old enough, they are set loose.  All are marked with ankle tags and/or radar.
Ranger showing radar tags
examples of ankle tags
Wingspan of vulture
These birds are amazing creatures and beautiful to watch. They are capable of flying 200 miles a day!

 I hope that the efforts by the National Park Authority to increase their numbers at Gamla will prove successful.

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