And There Are Also Wild People
The course of his life could have been entirely different. Chemotherapy saved his life once, and later on nature did it. In honour of World Wildlife Day, we chose to present you with the fascinating personal story of Yaniv Levy Paz, director of wildlife conservation at Ramat Hanadiv. We have clear proof of the cliché – that even when life gives you sour, intractable lemons, you can turn them into sweet lemonade
He’s only 25 years old but we can already say that his life story is far from routine. For this interview we accompanied him on a regular day of work in his open ‘office’ – the Nature Park at Ramat Hanadiv. The hospitality was perfect – close to the vulture acclimation cage, on a rock couch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with the winter sun caressing our backs and a cup of tea freshly prepared by Yaniv warming our hands. Yes, it definitely makes you jealous to think that some people’s morning always begins like this. Yaniv doesn’t waste time just talking, and in the time it took me to organise my notepad and thoughts, he had already disappeared into the cage to feed the vultures. A feeling of great excitement arose in the cage. When he came back to join us, we could clearly see that here he is happy, his entire body language changes when he leaves the neon lighting of the office for the open spaces; this is his territory.
From Chemotherapy to Nature-Therapy
When he was eight years old, Yaniv contracted leukaemia. Three years of chemotherapy replaced years 2, 3 and 4 – some of the most important years for developing learning habits, acquiring learning skills and developing the basic skills of reading and writing.
How does a child with no learning skills manage when beginning year five?
“At the beginning of year five I basically didn’t know anything. I had great deficiencies. Even the teachers didn’t really know what to do with me, so they gave me a lot of concessions. You feel like an idiot. You try to catch up on knowledge and learning habits and it’s very frustrating. Even before that I was not exactly a studious child; I was always a bit ‘hyper’, a child of nature, of the outside, of the earth. So I spent most of my time outside of class. By the age of 16 I had swapped schools five times; the system did not know how to deal with a child like me that had developed such deficiencies. Nature became my refuge.”
Their Rescue Centre – His Life Saver
So what was the turning point?
“Sometimes you need to meet just one person who believes in you. I had two of them. At the age of 16, after being expelled from a few schools, I came to the democratic school, ‘Keshet’, in Zikhron Ya’akov. Thanks to Moshe Lerner, the school’s principal at that time, I got back on track. Moshe Lerner managed to see the person in me and identify my abilities beyond the standard report card. Lerner allowed me to step out of the regular framework and work on what interested me. In those days I began volunteering with my uncle who established and directed the Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Mikhmoret; on the first day I realised straight away that the Rescue Center is also my life saver. That very morning I participated in resuscitation of a sea turtle that lasted for hours. This was the most moving and satisfying experience I had ever experienced. The sea turtle is a prehistoric animal, fascinatingly powerful. I continued to go daily to the rescue center and from the excitement of the first experience I underwent a slow process of learning and becoming familiar with the complex job of protecting animals. I already understood then what would be my role in life. From time to time I would go to school and prepare activities and lectures about saving sea turtles. When the head carer at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center left, naturally, with the experience I had accumulated, I replaced him, on a voluntary basis, for an entire year.
In the Service of Wildlife
Due to his medical history, Yaniv was not conscripted to the army and he completed two years’ national service – six months at the Yotvata Wildlife Reserve and one and a half years at the Israel Wildlife Hospital, run by Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and the Safari. There Yaniv was exposed to the great intensity of treating a wide range of wild animals, and acquired experience and much knowledge in this field that he defines as his life mission. After national service, Yaniv returned to the Zikhron Ya’akov region and worked in the Taninim River Nature Reserve near Jisr Al-Zarqa village. There Yaniv dealt with all of the tasks relevant to nature reserves – inspection and enforcement, surveys for the science division, receiving the public, explanation and maintenance. “But the most satisfying thing was the work with the village residents, especially the young adults and fishermen,” says Yaniv with bring eyes. “Informally, and through direct acquaintance I guided them through an educational, explanatory process, resulting in some of them completely stopping fishing and even helping me in my inspection and explanatory work.”
And Then Came the Offer from Ramat Hanadiv
After the wildlife reserve and the safari, did you ever consider undertaking academic studies?
“The truth is that I did. Once it was clear to me that animals would be the main thing occupying me in life, I began to think about studies in this field. But in life, as in life, things are very dynamic, and I was already deeply involved with work in this field. And then, two years ago, I received a work offer – to be responsible for management and conservation of the wildlife in the Nature Park at Ramat Hanadiv and of course I couldn’t refuse.”
What does your work day look like; how do you decide where to start?
“Well that’s it, on one hand I have maximum freedom of action, and on the other hand I have a fixed daily routine and great responsibility. I live the land and know every part of it. Each week I got out on two to three comprehensive tours of the Park. I always begin my morning with routing feeding and care of the vulture cage, which houses a breeding nucleus of vultures. Similarly, the cage serves as an acclimation cage for additional birds of prey that were injured and treated and require rehabilitation before being released to nature. I monitor their state of health and am in contact with professional organisations to coordinate their release date. Only last season we had more than 200 releases to nature. Another complex issue that regularly keeps me busy is the problem of introduced species, for example, stray cats that wander close to the borders of the Nature Park. These cats are a real hazard since they prey on wild animals and threaten the stability of the ecosystem. One of my main work tools is cameras. Currently about 30 cameras are scattered around the Park; I use them to monitor and examine the effects of feeding stations for cats in the built-up areas adjacent to the park. There is a constant conflict between the animals of the nearby neighbourhoods and the Park’s wildlife. We need to find the middle ground. I use the cameras to monitor the range of activities by the wildlife living in the Park. Recently I have been monitoring the roe deer living in the Park and trying to determine the number of individuals of this species in the region.”
And are there things that are not recorded by the cameras scattered around the Park?
“Of course, not everything is recorded by the cameras. There is the problem of illegal hunting in the Ramat Hanadiv and Hanadiv Valley region; in such cases we help the enforcement authorities mainly by collecting information in the field. Another problematic issue that I deal with on a daily basis that is not recorded by the cameras is animals that get run over while trying to cross roads. We must remember that the Nature Park at Ramat Hanadiv is surrounded on almost all sides by residential neighbourhoods and roads, turning it into a ‘desert island’. This situation leads to isolation and shrinking of animal populations. We know that nearly all species require a physical connection with populations in the areas surrounding Ramat Hanadiv in order to maintain population viability. Since ‘ecological corridors’ (ecological networks that connect natural areas via corridors and small patches of similar habitats), animals that want to move around are forced to cross roads, which are often very busy, and the sad result is that some of them are run over.
Therefore, I conduct regular road-kill surveys. Basically, I travel along all of the roads bordering Ramat Hanadiv and collect information about animals that have been run over. This information helps us to understand the state of the populations in the field. For example, last year we counted 19 dead jackals; this is an extremely high number that we haven’t seen for years. This fact may indicate a trend of increasing population growth in the region with respect to previous years.”
Training the Next Generation
In addition to the range of activities Yaniv carries out as part of his job, which cannot all be described here in detail, Yaniv leads the Junior Rangers project in the Park. This is a volunteering project for high school students within the framework of their community involvement.
“The fact that I am today training the next generation of young men and women in nature conservation gives me some closure. I place great importance on everything related to education and explanation as a means of protecting wildlife. It’s a lot of fun to work with young adults who are connected to nature. They help me in all of my essential routine activities and together we also assist many studies that are conducted in the Park by collecting information, monitoring species and more.”
What are your aspirations for the future? Where do you see yourself in another 20 years?
“What I do today is not work, it’s my role in life. Therefore, it’s clear to me that in the future I will continue dealing with wildlife conservation. Of course I aspire to develop and acquire new skills and I am even considering the option of academic studies. My aim is to combine scientific knowledge with all the tools I have acquired in the field.”
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