Posted by: israelembassysa | July 28, 2010


They do not care about borders

by Naomi Dinur

Now, just after the world cup, what would you have said if someone had told you that South Africa has millions of visitors each year?

Let me tell you the secret: They have actually already arrived, and keep coming every year. Yes it is a contribution to tourism, but no, unfortunately they do not bring cash with them – they are the migrating birds.

All will agree that there is a lot of logic in what they do – spending life in never ending summer, Travelling to Europe every autumn from South Africa to be in the spring there and coming back to the South-African spring. My mother in law would really love this arrangement if it weren’t a costly exercise. As the birds do not care about pilot strikes and the price of airfare, they are doing just that and, finding it pleasing, have been doing it forever.

These European visitors to Africa are a large variety of birds. For example: twice a year, over 450,000 white storks (Ciconia ciconia) migrate from Europe to southern Africa and back again. The trip is arduous, made more difficult by man-made perils like aircraft, power lines, barbed wire, polluted water and pesticides. It might seem that the storks take the long way to Africa; why don’t they fly directly over the Mediterranean? Heavy birds have a hard time staying in the air over large bodies of water. They prefer to soar on thermals, columns of warm, rising air created by the unique geography of the Middle East, which give the birds an easier ride. Flying the longer distance over land requires less work than flying a shorter distance over a large body of water.

Migration is one of the most amazing natural phenomena on earth. It is performed by butterflies, fish, turtles, deer, and many other animals. The longest migrations of all are those of birds. Israel, located at the junction of three continents, is crossed by migrating birds on a scale unparalleled anywhere. Studies over the past decade show that about 600 million birds cross Israel’s narrow airspace twice every year in the course of their migrations.

Every spring thousands of birdwatchers from around the world set out on the annual pilgrimage to the birdwatchers Mecca of the Middle East – Southern Israel. They come to watch a spectacle, a show of numbers in the avian world, with which few other places in the world can compare. The mass migration of millions of birds, representing a couple of hundreds of species, and their concentration at this bottleneck is second to no other site in the world. Small Israel in itself is a home for over 500 different species of bird.

Although Israel has laws that protect migrating birds, the massive migrations have created a grave safety problem for both Israel’s aeroplanes and the birds. A joint study conducted over the past decade by the Israel Air Force and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel led to several solutions that have reduced the number of accidents involving aircraft and birds by 88 percent, thereby helping to protect pilots, aircraft, and the migrating birds that fill Israel’s skies by the millions twice each year.

The Hoopoe - The National Bird of Israel

The International Centre for Study of Birds Migration in Israel  is developing computer tracking of migrating birds and exchanging information with ornithologists and students in neighbouring countries.

Ongoing efforts in Israel and Egypt to prevent bird-plane collisions and aid the travel-weary birds, are helping the birds as well as the diplomatic connection between the countries.

I mentioned that these two-legged European visitors to South Africa are not bringing cash. It is not completely accurate. The majority of the tourists to South Africa are Eco-tourists interested in the varied wildlife and flora with which South Africa was richly blessed. A few nature resorts are already aware of the international interest in birding and bird watching and they offer special bird watching guided tours. So in fact the birds are contributing to the tourism in the country.

Even if we are not (yet) in the tourism industry, we, the city dwellers, can enjoy the birds, their colours, their songs and the blessing of having nature coming chirping at our doorstep.

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