Safety in numbers

The Hai Bar Wildlife Reserve is breeding and acclimating endangered wildlife species in Israel

Hai Bar Wildlife Reservation 521 (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
Hai Bar Wildlife Reservation 521
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
By Israeli standards, driving south down highway 90 until the end is a very long drive. The scenery, which is fairly brown and monochromatic, characteristic of the Arava, seems not too promising.
But if you turn left and enter the Hai Bar reserve a few kilometers south of Yotvata, the desert unfolds into an African safari experience.
The Hai Bar Wildlife Reserve is a breeding and acclimation center for a few of the larger endangered wildlife species in Israel.
The main objective of the reserve is to breed animals including the Arabian oryx, the caracal and the ostrich for future reintroduction into the Negev and the Arava.
This reintroduction happens when the conditions are right and the number of animals bred reaches its target. After all, no one knows for sure if the process will succeed on the first attempt. There are known as well as unknown risks that may lead to failure. Working with wildlife in this manner is a delicate and often complicated affair and must be done only when everything is ready.
The Asiatic wild ass, a pure desert creature that looks like a cross between a horse and a donkey, was successfully released into the Ramon Crater. On the other hand, release attempts of the Arabian oryx and the ostrich failed a few years ago.
Established in 1968, this 12-square-kilometer nature reserve draws nature enthusiasts from all over the country, and not only those who are on their way to Eilat.
The reserve is open in winter from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and an hour later in the summer. The reserve is divided into three sections, with a large open area that serves as a home to large herbivores, including the oryx, the wild ass, the addax and the ostrich. In this section, tours are conducted by private cars driving slowly on a fixed trail.
In a separate enclosure near the main office, you can watch the predators. There are many predator species in the desert, including the wolf, several kinds of foxes, the caracal, the striped hyena and some cat species including the sand cat. Most impressive is the rare and nearly extinct Arabian leopard.
The best time to see the predators is at feeding time, when they are fully awake and not in hiding. Opposite this enclosure, in a horseshoe-shaped structure, there is an exhibit of smaller animals such as desert rodents, snakes, turtles and porcupines.
The third section of the reserve is the darkened room that hosts and shows nocturnal animals. These include bats, scorpions and raptors such as the barn owl, the eagle owl and the little owl.
Once you finish your visit at the Hai Bar reserve, you will have a much better understanding of the ecology and wildlife of the Israeli desert. You will learn of the harsh conditions to which these magnificent animals have had to adapt and witness the variety of specimens that inhabit the desert. You will also learn to appreciate the important work of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority in its efforts to reintroduce wildlife back into a healthy and safe desert home.