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  Extinct and Endangered Animals and Reintroduction
Gazelle Bulletin

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Mammals in Palestine and the Book "Mammalia Arabica"

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Extinct  and Endangered Animals and Reintroduction

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Extinct and Endangered Animals in Palestine

Progress in cultivation always leads to the extinction of many of the larger animals. Other animals, mainly domestic ones, take their place and the actual number of animals, (regarded as feeding units) is considerably increased. There is no doubt, however, that the country has lost greatly by this change. It is no accident that mainly large carnivora and large game animals are the ones primarily affected. Man was forced to protect his property against the large carnivora, and large game-animals constituted an important addition to his food. The deforestation, which has been taking place since historical times, also made life more difficult for these animals. However, Palestine is not the only country in which this process of elimination of the larger animals has taken place. Everywhere, in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt the same process is at work. Some natural sanctuaries were created in the last years in Palestine and other countries to save the wild animals. But it was too late for many species.
Over a million years ago elephants, rhinoceros, giraffes, water buffaloes and other animals which are now extinct in Palestine roamed the Judean Hills. In Bethlehem remains of some of these animals, thought to be 1.4 - 1.8 million years old, were found cut apart. These finds are the earliest signs of human existence near Jerusalem.
In the modern age, the rate of extinction of the wildlife in Palestine and in the world abound is steadily increasing and is 50 - 100 times greater than the natural extinction rate.
Intensive development of open fields, pollution and poaching are only part of the cause of the disappearance of many animals.
Palestine has been blessed with a variety of wildlife, which is one of the most diverse worldwide. It is estimated that in Palestine live and reproduce about 2,590 different species of vertebrates, including more than 100 mammals, 200 birds, and 95 reptiles. In addition, there are about 15,000 -30,000 species of insects.
22 species and 4 sub-species of vertebrates have been extinct in Palestine since the turn of the previous century. To these join approximately 6 species of insects and 15 species of mollusks. Many species have disappeared without us ever knowing of their existence.
In the last decades some wild animal species disappeared from Palestine like: the Naqab lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotus negevensis), the brown fish owl (Ketupa zeylonensis) and the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
Several other species and subspecies also face extinction in this country, as their numbers decline and suitable habitats shrink. Among these are griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), the leopards of northern Palestine (Panthera pardus tulliana), common otter (Lutra lutra), Wadi Araba gazelle (Gazella gazella ssp.), Nile soft-shelled turtle (Trionyx triunguis), hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and the honey badger (Mellivora capensis).

Threatened Mammals

Threatened Species: The following list includes all mammals which occur in Palestine and are rated as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN) or Vulnerable (VU) in the 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. An asterisk (*) indicates a change from the 1996 Red List to the 2000 Red List.

  • Critically Endangered:
  • Endangered:
    • Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx).
    • Buxton's Jird (Meriones sacramenti). (Endemic to Palestine.)
    • Mt. Hermon Field Mouse (Apodemus hermonensis). (Endemic to Golan Heights.)
    • Nubian Ibex (Capra nubiana).
  • Vulnerable:
    • Allenby's Gerbil (Gerbillus allenbyi). (Endemic to Palestine.)
    • Asiatic Wild Ass (Equus hemionus). (Re-introduced populations.)
    • *Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia). (Not listed in 1996 in Palestine.)
    • *Dorcas Gazelle (Gazella dorcas). (Rated Lower Risk: Near Threatened in the 1996 Red List.)
    • Dugong (Dugong dugon).
    • *Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra). (Not listed in 1996.)
    • Geoffroy's Bat (Myotis emarginatus).
    • Lesser Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros).
    • Long-fingered Bat (Myotis capaccinii).
    • Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus euryale).
    • Mehely's Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus mehelyi).

The Asiatic or Persian Lion (Panthera leo persica) in Palestine

The Asiatic or Persian Lion (Panthera leo persica):
“Then what is wrong with them that they turn away from receiving admonition. As if they were frightened wild donkeys. Fleeing from a lion (Qaswara).” (The Holy Qur’an, Suret Al-Muddather, Aya 49-51).
Lions are the most powerful of all carnivorous animals. Although not now found in Palestine, they must have been in ancient times very numerous there. They had their lairs in the forests (The Bible: Jeremiah 5:6; Jeremiah 12:8; Amos 3:4), in the caves of the mountains (Song of Solomon 4:8; Nahum 2:12), and in the canebrakes on the banks of the Jordan (Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44; Zechariah 11:3).
Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased. (The Bible, Jeremiah, 5:6).
Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; she has lifted up her voice against me: therefore have I hated it. (The Bible, Jeremiah, 12:8).
Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he has taken nothing? (The Bible, Amos, 3:4).
Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards. (The Bible, Song of Solomon, 4:8).
The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his holes with prey, and his dens with ravin. (The Bible, Nahum, 2:12).
Behold, he shall come up like a lion from the swelling of Jordan against the habitation of the strong: but I will suddenly make him run away from her: and who is a chosen man that I may appoint over her? For who is like me? And who will appoint me the time? And who is that shepherd that will stand before me? (The Bible, Jeremiah, 49:19 and 50:44).
There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds; for their glory is spoiled: a voice of the roaring of young lions; for the pride of Jordan is spoiled. (The Bible, Zechariah, 11:3).
And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, what is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them, if ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle. (The Bible, Judges, 14:18).
The Asiatic or Persian Lion (Felis leo persica), this proud symbol of strength and courage, must have been abundant in Biblical times. According to the Bible, in which it appears under several different names, the lion must have been quite common at that time. The species appears often on mosaics from the Roman and Byzantine periods. The thickets of the Jordan were a preferred habitat. It became extinct after the time of the Crusaders. The last mention of them being by Arab writers of the 13th and 14th century, when lions still existed near Samaria and other areas. One specimen has been hunted at Lejun, near Megiddo, in the thirteenth century. Alfaras Bin Shawer, Wali of Ramla, wrote that he saw eleven dead lions after heavy rain in Ramla and the area of Nahr (River) Al-Auja in 1294. Sanqarshah Almansouri, Naib of Safad (1304-1307), killed in the coastal forests 15 lions. At this time, lions certainly roamed over parts of Syria and Arabia and along the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, where in ancient times lions figured prominently in the great royal hunts in Assyria. It is clear that lions survived in Mesopotamia until the nineteenth century, and there are several references to them by travellers of that period.
The last remnant of the Asiatic Lion, which in historical times ranged from Greece to India through Iran (Persia), lives in the Gir Forest National Park of western India. About 300 lions live in a 1,412 km² (558 square miles) sanctuary in the state of Gujarat. In 1907 there were only 13 lions left in the Gir, when the Nawab of Junagadh gave complete protection to them.
Unlike the tiger, which prefers dense forests with adequate cover, the lion inhabits the scrub-type deciduous forests. Compared to its African counterpart, the Indian lion has a scantier mane. The lion seldom comes into contact with the tiger which also lives in India, but not in the Gir region as this forest is hotter and more arid than the habitat preferred by the tiger.
In Al-Jaleel (Galilee) there is a hill called Tel el Assad (Lion Hill in Arabic), and there is a village nearby called Deir el Assad (Monastery of the Lion), that may refer to a quite late occurrence of this species. Bie’r Al-Sabe’e (Well of the Lion) is a famous Palestinian city in the Naqab (Negev) desert.

The Syrian Bear in Palestine
The Syrian Bear (Ursus syriacus) was not uncommon in North Palestine in Biblical times. Prophet David boasts of having strangled a bear, which had attacked his herd, and two bears killed the 42 boys, who scoffed at the prophet Elisha. In the nineteenth century it was observed in a ravine near Tiberias, near Beisan and in the Jolan. The last bear was seen in the southern Hermon in 1917.They were 140 cm in height and dark brown. It has not been a menace to flocks of sheep and goats for a long time, but occasional visits to vine-yards and fruit-groves are still reported from Syria. The Bear is extinct on the Hermon and Anti-lebanon, mainly because it was so drastically hunted by German officers during the war.
The Mesopotamian or Persian Fallow Deer in Palestine
These are the beasts which ye shall eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat. The deer and the gazelle, and the fallow deer, and the wild goat and the adax, and the bison, and the wild sheep.
(Deuteronomy 14: 4-5).
The Mesopotamian or Persian fallow deer(Dama dama mesopotamica) is considered to be one of the rarest species of deer in the world; overhunting brought this species to the verge of extinction worldwide. It was seen on Mount Tabor and in Upper Galilee in Palestine in the nineteenth century, and was at that time on the verge of extinction. It has completely disappeared from Palestine since. In fact, in the early 1950s it was thought to be extinct, but in 1956 a very small herd, estimated at 25 animals, was discovered in Iran. In 1978, four fallow deer were brought to Palestine and placed in Hai Bar Carmel together with two more Persian fallow deer acquired from zoos in Europe the previous year.
The six animals formed the nucleus of a breeding core, and with the care and devotion of the Hai Bar staff, the Persian fallow deer quickly flourished. By 1996, its population had swelled to more than 150, by far the largest herd anywhere in the world. Since that year, ten deer have been transported twice a year from Hai Bar Carmel to a 10-hectare enclosure with rich vegetation within the Kziv Reserve in the Northern Galilee. The animals are kept in the reserve for three months before being released into the neighboring countryside. During the brief period in the enclosure, they become accustomed to their new environment and become independent of artificial feeding.
Before being released, all the females and several males are fitted with radio collars. This enables the INNPPA to track the deer after they are released into the wild. In this manner, the herd's progress can be monitored and any factors threatening its existence can be quickly traced. Over the past five years, the INNPPA's experts have been learning how the deer have adjusted to their new environment by studying their patterns of movement and preferred habitat. Based on the data accrued, the INNPPA has been able to improve its reintroduction program, acquire basic information for future management of the Persian fallow deer population, and project the distribution and success of the future wild population. Biologists have also added to what they already knew about the Persian fallow deer: their average weight and height is 150 kilograms and 100 centimeters respectively, their life span about 16 years and their gestation period seven and a half months, producing a single fawn. The first fawns were born in the wild in the spring of 1997.
By the summer of 2000, ten bi-annual releases had taken place, making a total population of more than 100 fallow deer in northern Galilee. An additional 150 deer continue living in Hai Bar Carmel. Estimates are that by the year 2005, there will be nearly 200 fallow deer living in the wild. In 2002, the reintroduction effort will shift to eastern Galilee and the Jerusalem mountains.
As a direct result of this program, Persian fallow deer have been successfully reintroduced to the wild, once again becoming part of the country's landscape. However, aside from the reintroduced population in Palestine, both in the wild and Hai Bar Carmel, there are thought to be no more than 15 Persian fallow deer still alive in the wild in Iran and several hundred more in captivity in zoos worldwide. Therefore, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) still lists this rarest of deer as a critically endangered species.
The Roe Deer in Palestine
And who were as swift as the roes upon the mountains.
(I Chronicles 12:9).
The Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) is a common species in Europe, and was fairly common on Mount Carmel and Upper Galilee till the end of the last century. The hunters of the Carmel used to deliver it to the German butcher in Haifa for five francs, but excessive hunting has led to its extinction. In 1912 the skin and skeleton of the last specimen was sold.
Roe deer weigh up to 25 kilograms, have an average height of 65-78 centimeters and live a maximum of 14 years. Gestation period for the female is nine months after which one or two fawns are delivered. The male roe deer is territorial and the female has exclusive home ranges. The animal thrives in the forests and grasslands of temperate Mediterranean zones, and throughout history its speed has made it a challenging target for hunters. But even its biblically-noted swiftness did not enable it to survive the introduction of the rifle to the region.
The solitary nature of roe deer and the high level of antagonistic behavior exhibited towards other members of their own species, makes them difficult to breed in captivity. Large numbers cannot be kept in small enclosed areas, so it was not possible to set up a large breeding core. To overcome this problem, the INNPPA imports roe deer from wild populations in southern Europe, and after a short period of quarantine at Hai Bar Carmel, they are released into the wild.
The site chosen for the reintroduction of roe deer into the wild is the Ramat Hanadiv park on Mount Carmel near Zichron Ya'cov. The first release of six females and two males took place in February 1997, a second release of a male and a female took place in March 1998 and a third release of four animals was completed in 1999. Future releases are dependent on the availability of animals from Europe. However, because of the roe deer's high rate of reproduction, it is possible that just one or two more releases will be sufficient to establish a population in the wild. All released animals are fitted with radio collars so that their whereabouts can be tracked and their behavior monitored.
The Addax (Addax nasomaculata) probably only sojourned in Palestine for a very short time. Now it is extinct even in all neighbouring countries.
The Arabian Oryx in Palestine
He is noble, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns.
(Deuteronomy 33:17)
The Arabian white oryx (Oryx leucoryx) is a large white antelope, often confused with, or compared to, the mythical unicorn because of its impressive long, slim horns. Living for up to 17 years, the average oryx weighs 65 kilograms and reaches a height of 98 centimeters. The gestation period for these mammals is eight and a half months, after which a single young is produced. The oryx cannot run fast, but can defend itself very effectively with its horns.
Unfortunately, its beauty has also been the cause of its near demise. Once abundant throughout the deserts of the Middle East, this majestic animal became a favorite target of desert hunters. By the mid-19th century the oryx that had once roamed the Naqab (Negev) and Sinai deserts had vanished; it was last sighted in the region in Jordan in the 1930s. several of the few remaining oryx were shipped from Saudi Arabia to Phoenix Zoo in the early 1960s, as a founder group for a captive herd. Like the Persian fallow deer, this animal is now listed by the IUCN as a critically endangered species.
Being restricted to claustrophobic enclosures was a particular tragedy for this animal, which loves the wide-open spaces of the desert. The oryx is known for its ability to roam great distances in search of food and water. Nomadic in nature, a herd can cover an area of 2,000 square kilometers annually. The animals can survive in the most arid of environments - regions with less than 50 millimeters average annual rainfall; it has been observed surviving many months without drinking, and remarkably can detect rainfall up to 100 kilometers away.
In 1978, the INNPPA purchased eight Arabian oryx (four males and four females) from Phoenix Zoo. These animals became the founders of a breeding core at Hai Bar Yotvata, south of Palestine. Here they bred well, and by 1996 the herd numbered 80 animals. The site chosen for the reintroduction of the oryx was the Shahak Spring in the Northern Araba Valley. A 10-hectare enclosure was constructed around the spring and in March 1997, 21 animals were released into the wild after spending several months in the enclosure. A further eleven animals were released in 1998.
Most females and several males are radio-collared before their release. In addition, two females carry satellite transmitters to enable the relocation of the herd in the case of long-range movements, which could involve distances of up to 100 kilometers in one night. However, the released herd appears to have established a stable home range in the vicinity of the site of the initial reintroduction. Within the first two years in the wild, there were eight births and all the young survived.
The INNPPA is planning several more releases in the coming years in the central and western Naqab. The process is expected to end in 2004, by which time it is hoped there will be over 100 animals in the wild.
Red Deer
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) bones were discovered in different areas in Palestine.It became extinct a long time ago.
The Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) was living in Palestine in the Lower Pleistocene Geologic period. It became extinct from a long time.
The Onager or Wild Ass in Palestine
Who hath sent out the wild ass free? Or who has loosed the bands of the onager?
(Jop 39:5).
The Asiatic wild ass, also known as the onager, is a species from the horse family. The onager has always been associated with the wild because so far it has been impossible to tame or domesticate it, and thus take advantage of its immense speed, strength and stamina. However, hunters succeeded in driving the the species to extinction in Palestine and neighboring Syria; the last sighting of an onager in the region was in 1927. Two forms occured: the Syrian Wild Ass (Equus hemihippus) and the Onager (Equus onager).
It is now listed by the IUCN as an endangered species, though compared to the Persian fallow deer, it exists in relatively large numbers. In Turkmenistan, there are an estimated 5,000 onagers, and a much smaller herd exists in Iran.
Thriving on flat arid lands and steppes, the onager is able to run at great speed and has remarkable stamina. It can also go for three to four days without drinking. Onagers live up to 24 years, weigh 200 kilograms and have a height of 115 centimeters. A single foal is produced after a gestation period of 11 months.
Onagers were first imported into Palestine in 1969 from Iran, and placed in Hai Bar Yotvata. Releases into the wild began in 1982 in the Ramon Crater region of the Naqab (Negev) highlands. Over the years, a total of 26 females and 20 males have been released in the vicinity of the Ramon Crater. The reintroduced population was monitored closely until 1996. Based on the data collected from radio collars, numerous scientific papers, magazine articles and TV programs have been produced. Today the reintroduction program is complete and the population in the wild is estimated at over 100 animals in an area of 5000 square kilometers. There are an additional 40 onagers at Hai Bar Yotvata.
Syrian Ostrich
The Syrian Ostrich (Struthio syriacus) is extinct in Palestine. In the nineteenth century it was still common in the Syrian desert, in the Beka and probably also in the extreme south of Palestine. At the Levante Fair in 1929 a living Ostrich was exhibited which was caught two hours south of Beersheba. Since that time it was no more recorded.
The Nile Crocodile in Palestine
The Nile Crocodile (Crocodilus vulgaris) lived in Palestine till the begining of the twentieth century. Nahr (River) Al Zarka, near Caesarea, was called the Crocodile river (Nahr Al Timsah, in Arabic). Since about 1000 D.C. crusaders and geographers have continuously been reporting it as the Crocodile river. In 1877 a grey-green Crocodile was found. It was 3 m long, with 48 eggs in its abdomen, one of which is now in the Senkenberg Museum. The Beduins, who inhabit the swamps, have repeatedly reported losses of human life and goats. Some individuals have been seen in the Kishon and possibly also in the Yarkon. They probably did not breed there, but may have arrived there by way of the shore. 5 -6 specimens have actually been captured during the nineteenth century. Another specimen was found there at the end of the first war. Since that time the whole swamp to the south of the Carmel has been properly drained and the Israeli Benjamina settlement was built on their main breeding place. Since that time no other specimen was recorded.
Palestine is the only locality, besides Africa, where it has lived. From the zoogeographical point of view, however, its occurence here is no more difficult to understand than its presence in Africa Minor, north of the Sahara, where it likewise became extinct.
The Asiatic or Iranian Cheetah

There are many impressive carnivores in the world, but the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is one of the most striking.
There were cheetahs living in Palestine as recently as the 1950s. In the 19th century it was living about Mount Tabor and in the hills of Galilee. The last time a cheetah was spotted here was in the Naqab Dasert in 1959, but since then, there has been no trace of the animal throughout this region. In the Sinai Desert it was last seen in 1946. In Jordan, a female and her cub were killed in 1962. It appears that the cheetah was formerly widespread in the plains of the northern Arabian Peninsula.
The cheetah is a cat with many distinguishing attributes, but by far the most notable of them is the animal's phenomenal speed. Cheetahs can run at speeds as great as 110 kph (almost 70 mph). This makes them the world's fastest mammals, and in general, the world's fastest land animals. The cheetah is built for speed. The physical attributes that enable such velocities include a large pair of lungs, big enough to allow for sufficient oxygen intake on the run, and raised shoulder blades that lengthen the legs, so that the animal can gain more distance with every bound. The high shoulder blades give the entire body a peculiar "hunchback" appearance. Unlike other cats, the cheetah lacks sheaths for its claws. Consequently, the claws protrude at all times, and can only be retracted very slightly. The claws help the cheetah dig in and get a firm grasp of the ground, as it executes complex maneuvers and sharp turns.
The cheetah does not necessarily need to stalk its prey, as, for instance, a leopard would do. Instead, it can begin chasing its prey from relatively far away, and rely on its overwhelming capabilities as a sprinter to bring the prey down. On the other hand, the cheetah's slender body, as wonderfully adapted as it is to running, is rarely strong enough to defend a catch against heavier or more numerous challengers. Moreover, the cheetah must expend tremendous energy in a chase, and is usually in a state of extreme exhaustion when it ends. After a successful pursuit, the cheetah must pause to catch its breath, and as the minutes pass, competitors such as African wild dogs, Spotted hyenas, and lions can easily snatch its prey. Also, the cheetah is normally incapable of hiding its catch; it is not a good climber, nor can it drag a heavy load very far. These factors make it difficult for the cheetah to compete in its environment, and younger cheetahs are particularly disadvantaged. In addition, cheetah populations suffer from low genetic variability, probably as a result of selective pressures that affected these populations in the distant past. In essence, today's cheetahs are almost carbon copies of each other. Low genetic variability is a factor that increases the vulnerability of the world's cheetah populations to a wide variety of diseases and physiological defects.
The cheetah is sometimes confused with the leopard or tiger. If you are ever in doubt, just look at the pattern of markings: the spots on the cheetah's body are solid, whereas the leopard's spots have spaces in the middle, and the tiger has stripes.
In the past, the geographical range of the cheetah included India, Iran, Palestine, and Africa. Today, only the African population remains. Like many other large carnivores, the cheetah has suffered from habitat destruction, elimination of natural prey, and hunting, factors that are mostly the result of human impact. But the cheetah has also been victimized by a human activity that no other big cat has had to endure, namely exploitation as a hunting animal. Many thousands of wild cheetahs were captured for the amusement and recreation of the upper classes. The animals were trained like hunting dogs, to serve in the courts of kings, emperors, and wealthy men, where they were regarded as status symbols. In one exceptional case, the Emperor Akhbar, who ruled in India in the sixteenth century, was the proud owner of more than one thousand pairs of cheetahs. Remarkably enough, in his lifetime, only one pair actually managed to breed!
The cheetahs in the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo are kept separately. The cheetah is by nature a solitary animal. Apparently, in order to breed cheetahs successfully, the male and female must be separated for most of the year, and united only when the female is in heat.

The Lynx
The Lynx (Lynx lynx) occured in Palestine. Skins were obtained from the natives in the 19th century. It was a known animal at that time. Since then it was not seen. It existed in Palestine in former times when there were more extensive forests. It seems likely that the progressive deforestation and expanding human population has resulted in the complete disappearance of this rare Carnivore from Palestine.
The Weasel
The Weasel (Mustela nivalis) lived in Palestine till the 19th century in the vicinity of Mount Tabor. Since that time no new records were made. A weasel was caught in 1951 at kammouha in Lebanon; this specimen is now in the American University of Beirut collection.

Gazelle - The Palestinian Biological Bulletin