Where have all the reptiles gone?
Unexpectedly, in Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park – a place known for its diverse wildlife – the reptile community is ever so slowly disappearing. So what is the main culprit? How is it related to grazing management in the Park? And what can we learn from this about the continuous complexity of human management of natural areas?
Recently, the reptile community at Ramat Hanadiv has greatly diminished. The main reason for this is already known to researchers, and emphasizes the complexity of active management of natural areas, which are themselves shrinking due to threats from development. It turns out that such management is not without consequences and may often carry a price tag, and the great challenge is to find the optimal benefits for nature, the landscape and humans.
In recent decades Ramat Hanadiv has gone to great lengths to prevent the spread of fire as much as possible. This activity combines manual tree cutting, cattle grazing and goat grazing. Cattle grazing has been implemented in the Park since 1990. Long-term monitoring at Ramat Hanadiv in the last 15 years has found that grazing has a positive effect on the richness and diversity of the vegetation, while decreasing the risk of fire by reducing the amount of dry herbaceous plant material in the summer. Grazing also benefits particular species, for example, a study conducted at Ramat Hanadiv over a number of years found that cattle grazing is necessary for the existence of the anemone ‘carpets’ in the Park.
However, apparently not everything is rosy; cattle grazing also has less cheery, indirect consequences on the reptile community living in the Park. It turns out that the cattle egret, an ‘elegant’ white water bird, has a role to play, due to its eating habits. A study conducted recently by Roi Talbi, from the University of Haifa, found that this bird, which accompanies the grazing herd that provides it with an abundance of flies and other delicious insects, chooses to stay in the Park long after the grazing season ends and the cows leave the park. The egret, which also feeds on reptiles, found a ‘treasure trove of reptiles’ and began to stealthily decimate the local reptile community.
We once again find ourselves in a situation where we need to deal with the consequences of our previous intervention. Without a doubt, it would be much easier to carry on next to nature, in relative balance, as occurred for thousands of years, but the growing population of the human species encroaches onto more and more of the open landscapes and impacts those that remain. All we can do is to find creative solutions that will allow us to live side by side and ensure a better future for all of us.
Following this study, Ramat Hanadiv and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority met up to think about possible ways of dealing with the explosion of the cattle egret population. In the first stage we will treat the problem by making changes to the cattle regime that will be accompanied by surveys and observations to determine whether there is any improvement. We all hope to see less egrets, as well as recovery of the reptile community in the Park.
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