(photo credit: )
Recently, the road safety section of the Jerusalem Municipality's Department of City Improvement dispatched a crew to post a deer crossing sign at the corner of Herzog Boulevard and Begin Highway, the busy intersection that forms the southwest corner of the Valley of the Mountain Fruit.
The signs mark a small victory for advocates of the preservation of the valley and its wildlife, since they provide statutory acknowledgement of the herd of 25 gazelles that live there.
The 227-dunam green oasis, which locals and activists call "Gazelle Valley," has been a source of conflicting interests since the late 1990s, when its former lessors, Kibbutzim Ma'aleh Hahamisha and Kiryat Anavim, abandoned the apple and cherry orchards they once grew there in favor of a lucrative real estate plan to develop the strategically situated open space for residential and commercial use.
For nearly five years, area residents, together with environmental and social change organizations, have fought against these proposed development plans, objecting to the loss of open space, damage to the quality of life for surrounding neighborhoods, the threat to the gazelles (an endangered species) and the loss of the educational potential of the valley.
According to Amir Balaban of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the municipality's initiative was inspired by a letter drafted by pupils at a local youth rehabilitation center and special education school. For the past three years, Balaban reveals, these pupils have been volunteering in the valley, tracking the herd and other wildlife, fashioning and maintaining an observation post and offering the public guided explanations of the site.
Balaban applauds the municipality for its swift supportive response and hopes it will follow suit in other wildlife areas such as those in Ramat Shlomo and Ein Kerem.
However, he calls on the municipality to provide additional preservation measures, such as a fence to keep gazelles from wandering into the road. Over the last year, at least three gazelles have been killed in traffic accidents.