Table 1: The origin of Israeli mammals and their distribution areas:
(The acacia gazelle and the coypu have not been included)
1. Endemic species: three species endemic to Israel and 8 species endemic to the Middle East (Arabo-Nubian or Arabo-Sinaian) exist in Israel, comprising together about 11% of the species.
2. Desert species (Saharo-Arabian or Saharo-Sindian): a total of 16 species, some of which penetrated East Africa, comprise about 15% of the Israeli fauna.
3. Tropical species: there are 13 species in Israel whose distribution area is mostly in Africa (Afro-Tropical), 2 Oriental species and 5 Paleotropical species, a total of 20 species, comprising about 19% of the Israeli fauna.
4. Central Asian species (Irano-Turanian): there are 12 species in Israel, some of which have penetrated Europe, and they comprise about 12% of the Israeli fauna.
5. Species whose distribution is mainly Palearctic: there are 36 species in Israel, comprising 35% of the Israeli fauna.
6. Species with very broad ranges (cosmopolitan or Holoarctic): there are 7 such species in Israel, comprising about 7% of the Israeli fauna.
7. The Mediterranean monk seal found along the Mediterranean coast and the Atlantic Ocean (Northwest Africa) – about 1% of the Israeli fauna.
B. Status of Israeli Mammals
Table 2: Current Status of Israeli Mammalian Species
At the beginning of the 20th century there were 103 terrestrial mammals in Israel, including the Mediterranean monk seal, which is dependent on the beach for reproduction. (The acacia gazelle is a subspecies and noted as an addition of 1 to the species in Israel.) The coypu however, that was brought into Israel to be grown commercially for its fur in the 1950s and has since dispersed in nature, has not been included in the count of Israeli species. Five species became extinct in Israel (RE) during the first half of the 20th century: Mehely’s horseshoe bat, northern water vole, cheetah, brown bear and Mediterranean monk seal.
Another four species became extinct in Israel at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century: Onager, Persian fallow deer, Arabian oryx and roe deer. Efforts are currently being made to reintroduce these species into nature.
Twelve endemic species and subspecies, such as the Acacia gazelle, are critically endangered (CR) in Israel.
Twenty-five species are endangered (EN) in Israel.
Twenty species have been identified as vulnerable (VU) and may become endangered.
Six species are susceptible to human disturbance whose status is near threatened (NT), may become vulnerable in the near future.
Thirty species are in no danger in the near future (LC).
The existing data for two species, small-spotted genet and desert pipistrelle are few and incomplete (DD).
In short: of 103 species that existed in Israel at the beginning of the 20th century almost 9% have become extinct and about 54% of the species are in some danger of extinction (VU, EN, CR).
C. Disturbance and Threat Factors to Israeli Mammals
Man has influenced the fauna of Israel for thousands of years. During the past 100 years the human population in this region has grown 13 fold from 650,000 to 8,000,000. Extinction of species and subspecies, or population reduction to the brink of extinction, results from the following anthropogenic factors: poisoning and widespread use of pesticides, unregulated hunting, natural habitat loss and destruction, competition with exclusion by domestic animals (dogs, cats) and exotic species, disturbance by hikers – entrance to caves, off-road vehicles, rock climbing, littering (Shalmon 1999, Yom-Tov and Mendelssohn 1988).
Factors disturbing and endangering Israeli mammals:
1. Reduction, modification and fragmentation of preferred habitat by:
I. Roadkill and fragmentation by highways.
II. Expansion of farming, grazing and urban areas.
III. Sand quarrying.
IV. Afforestation, planting of windbreaker trees, limans (small groups of trees, particularly in the Negev) that are monocultures or composed of exotic, invasive species (Australian Acacia spp.).
V. Tank movements, particularly on sandy, hammada and loess surfaces.
2. Widespread use of pesticides, particularly insecticides and rodenticides, but also against predators causing damage to cattle and poultry growers; this is possibly one of the main factors responsible for the continued decline of insectivorous bats.
3. Damage to natural water sources: pollution and drainage.
5. Altering the natural balance between different species:
I. Open garbage dumps, dumping domestic fowl and mammal carcasses in natural areas.
II. Domestic animals (dogs and cats) that return to the wild and harm native species by: competitive exclusion, predation, spreading disease, genetic pollution (breeding with wild species).
6. Tourism: visitors to caves populated by bats, off-road vehicles driving on sandy and loess areas, arson, disposing of food remains in natural areas; rock climbing.
D. Habitats of Israeli Mammals
Table 3: Mammalian species abundance in different habitats
* Endemic species – to Israel and the Arabo-Nubian region.
** Endangered – species belonging to categories CR, EN, VU.
*** In addition to these the following species can be expected on Mt. Hermon: small-spotted genet (Genetta felina), pale grey shrew (Crocidura pergrisea) and weasel (Mustela nivalis), that is found on Mt. Lebanon north of Ba’al Beq (Harrison & Bates 1991).
E. Habitat Preservation
Two factors should be considered when formulating recommendations for areas to preserve:
I. Weighting the degree of importance of the habitat or area to mammals based on the number of species, the number of endemic species and the number of endangered species.
The degree of importance of a habitat or area to mammals in descending order is:
Mt. Hermon → the Syrian-African Rift Valley in the Dead Sea region → Mediterraniean woodland → water sources → the Rift Valley in the Eilat region → the acacia wadis in the Negev → cliffs in the desert → sand and loess.
Examination of the distribution and abundance of Israeli mammals (Yom-Tov, 1988) showed that the number of mammals increases from west to east (great species richness in the Syrian-African Rift Valley), and the number of species also increases from south to north.
II. The number and size of declared reserves that include a given habitat:
Although Mt. Hermon has been declared a nature reserve, many bodies do not regard it as such, causing severe damage time and time again. Many reserves include sections of the following regions: the Rift Valley in the Dead Sea area, Mediterraniean woodland, the Rift in the Eilat area, the acacia wadis in the Negev and cliffs in the desert. It is therefore essential to declare nature reserves in aquatic habitats (springs, streams and marshes), and sand and loess areas that are still underrepresented.
1. Aquatic habitats: pure water sources (springs, streams, marshes) that flow throughout the year and are surrounded by rich vegetation that includes trees should be preserved and expanded. Riverbanks should be rehabilitated with care to preserve the natural riverside vegetation. Fishponds surrounded by dense vegetation should be cared for as a replacement for water-abundant marshes and rivers. Ties with fishermen should be fostered to prevent harm to endangered species such as the Eurasian otter and jungle cat.
2. Loess and sand: a variety of species are found on the loess-sand flats in the Negev, the coastal sands and the sands of the western Negev and the Arava, among them one endemic species (Buxton’s jird) and few endangered species (e.g. greater Egyptian jerboa). It is therefore necessary to locate suitable areas and declare at least one large nature reserve in the sandy areas and another in the loess-sand area.
3. Mt. Hermon (mainly the high elevation – the cushion-plant zone): includes the largest abundance of species found in Israel, including many endangered species (three of them endemic species).
4. The Syrian-African Rift area: this area is very rich in mammals, many of them endemic and many endangered. It is essential to declare large nature reserves in suitable areas in this region and to link them by ecological corridors that allow passage of large mammals. Cliffs, water sources and wadis with abundant acacias are of major importance in the desert, as they are inhabited by many species, some of them endemic.
5. Mediterraniean woodland: an abundance of mammalian species is found in this region, many endangered. Ecological corridors between reserves must be preserved to allow safe passage of large mammals. It is particularly important to preserve cliffs, deep, damp caves and water sources in the maquis.
F. Prioritization of necessary actions to preserve mammalian species
1. Declaring the largest possible nature reserves in the areas recommended in section E. If this is not possible, agreements should be reached with bodies owning suitable sites, such as military areas, airfields or areas controlled by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), to protect mammalian diversity. Organic farming areas and planted forests may also be of help. It is important to protect ecological corridors that allow safe passage for mammals between reserves by law, as well as to build many large culverts under highways, with “dry” passageways on their sides to prevent roadkill and population fragmentation.
2. Reducing pesticide use, particularly insecticides and rodenticides; preventing intentional poisoning of predators causing damage to cattle and poultry growers.
3. Reducing hunting by increasing supervision and enforcement, or modifying hunting laws and regulations.
4. Keeping natural water sources free of pollutants and rehabilitating water sources that dried up or became polluted.
5. Regulating pedestrian and motor traffic and armed forces exercises in nature reserves, natural areas and military areas.
6. Removing extant exotic animal and plant species and efficient enforcement to prevent importation of exotic species into Israel.