You won’t want to stop this addiction…
Parents of teenagers? It turns out that there is a teenage addiction you will actually love. They become intimately familiar with the nature park, conduct field observations, collect information, monitor animal movements, feed the vultures, clean hikers’ waste from the park and assist the rangers. We present “Junior Rangers” the young rangers of Ramat Hanadiv
Friday, 8:30 am; most teenagers are still hibernating at this hour. The sun begins to climb to the center of the sky but in early March it’s still cold. A group of young men and women, teenagers, whisper in the courtyard of the Ramat Hanadiv staff dining room. Another week of studies has ended and instead of lying in bed they’re already here, in walking shoes, holding rangers’ notebooks and a cup of hot chocolate. For the early birds among them it’s already the second or third cup. Their eyes reflect sleepiness diluted by a spark of enthusiasm. Another Friday morning has arrived, their favorite morning of the week.
The last ones join and the morning briefing begins. Yaniv Levi-Paz, head of wildlife conservation and management at Ramat Hanadiv, reviews the events of the past week at Ramat Hanadiv: the vulture egg that was laid, new lesser kestrel chicks, a sick badger that was transferred for treatment but didn’t survive and more. They swallow his words together with the hot chocolate and ask questions. Afterwards, they divide up into pairs and go out to the field. Two to the vulture cage, two to the red trail, two to the spring, and so on. Each pair goes out to its weekly task.
The Junior Rangers are 10th-12th grade students from different schools in the region, who have decided to dedicate their “social involvement” (formerly called “personal commitment”) to wildlife conservation at Ramat Hanadiv. They meet each Friday for a few hours and go out to complete tasks in the park.
I go with Daniela and Noam to the vulture cage. She is an 11th-grade student at the Moshava High School in Zikhron Ya’akov; he is from Karkur, and studies at Mevo’ot Iron. On the way Yaniv tells them about the new dynamics in the cage, and asks them to stay alert and focus on the behavior of a particular pair of vultures, and on their interaction with the other vultures. Before they enter the cage, Daniela and Noam prune branches from a nearby olive tree. “The branches are used as additional nesting material and encourage reproduction,” they explain. Afterwards they sit down at an observation point and begin recording the movements in the cage.
“You don’t get bored sitting like that in silence all morning?” I ask. “What are you talking about?” they both answer in perfect unison. “It’s such a unique and interesting animal,” says Noam, “I could sit watching them for hours.” “The work is not easy,” adds Daniela, “in the beginning it was hard for me to participate at feeding time in the cage. I love all animals, and to watch the poor calf being butchered was not an easy sight. But I understand that this is an opportunity to conserve these endangered animals. Here we are taking part in the national vulture conservation project and I feel that this is a unique opportunity, and that we are part of something much larger.” As part of their role they must, from time to time, distance curious hikers who climb on the cage, and ask them to stand quietly at a distance so as not to disturb the birds.
They both tell me that besides the actual work, a wonderful social connection has formed among the group members. They come from different schools and connect with other nature-lovers just like them. It seems that nature is a wonderful place for connections.
Yoel and Yoav were sent to patrol the green trail. Both are students at Ort Binyamina. This morning they received a tracking task, to inspect the scent stations and identify badger signs. On the way they walked around with large garbage bags and gathered up all the waste they found. “During the first weeks we underwent comprehensive professional training, and among other things, we learned tracking, identification of the signs of animals that have passed by, for example, identification of footprints or digging. According to the sign, we identify the animal that passed by here,” Yoel tells me. Like many others in the group, Yoav has already completed the number of hours that he is required to volunteer, but he keeps on coming. For some of them this is already the second year they are active here. “Every Friday we spend time in nature. For me it’s a change of scenery. It’s relaxing and it’s also fun and educational and we feel that we are contributing to Ramat Hanadiv and the efforts to conserve wildlife here.” Yoel and Yoav met each other here volunteering and have been friends ever since, also meeting outside of their park activities
While we are chatting, Omri emerges from one of the trails. He is an 11th-grade student from Moshava High School and radiates the confidence of one who feels at home in the field. Last year he got experience guiding preschool children in the park, but he prefers independent activity in the field. “In this work, I feel that I help and contribute to the work of the rangers and wildlife staff,” he says,” On the way here, for example, I already met hikers walking their dog without a leash. I explained to them politely why it is important to keep dogs on a leash in the park – when they run around freely they scare the wild animals. If, for example, a young fawn escapes from a dog it may be lose contact with its mother and disappear, and then it will be in danger.” Today Omri joins Yaniv and patrols the trails with him in the jeep. I join them in the jeep. Yaniv chats with Omri directly at eye level. They talk about everything; school, friends, girlfriends. “Why do you come here instead of sleeping in on Friday mornings?” I ask. “It’s very important for me,” he answers, “I live in Zihkron Ya’akov, and there isn’t so much nature there as there was in the past. The neighborhoods are expanding and there’s concrete everywhere. Here I feel that we are safeguarding our bit of nature. I learn a lot here and it’s the best fun to hike in nature. A few weeks ago we had a fun activity; we made mallow and olive oil fritters. I wouldn’t do that anywhere else.” Omri also comes here during his free time. He loves this and feels at home here. “You know what?” he says, “It’s already become a kind of addiction,” and I build the title around this…
From time to time the conversation is cut off when their eyes catch something. They raise their eyes to the sky, trying to identify some bird of prey soaring above us. “This time it’s a snake eagle,” explains Yaniv, “Snake eagles recently came to breed here.” Shahaf and Yotam, students at Ort Binyamina, are patrolling the manor trail. They gather up the hikers’ leftovers and explain to others about the place and where they should continue to from here. “It’s something else here,” they say, “Nature gives us a feeling of freedom and pulls us away from the computer at home.”
We met Ido and Ro’i already returning from the spring. They look like part of the furniture. They are brimming with confidence out here. “In addition to the enjoyment and purpose of the activities here, we feel that Ramat Hanadiv invests in us. It’s unlike any other volunteering project; we learn a lot and receive a lot,” they say.
Yaniv Levi-Paz who leads the group on behalf of Ramat Hanadiv, has come full circle. “When I was 16 I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. At that time I began volunteering at similar places. Thus, I am strongly connected to this project. We come to them when they’re beginning to develop a hunger for the world; this is the time to infect them with this germ, and the readiness to learn and become familiar with the magic of nature comes by itself. The fire in their eyes says it all. The beauty of this program is that it invites a real, direct encounter with all the aspects of conservation in the nature park, while becoming intimately familiar with it. They are involved in everything – guiding hikers, assisting in research via tracking and caring for wild animals.
The Junior Rangers program was developed through in-depth thought about the connection of the region’s students to the park. “During an era in which youth spend more and more time in front of screens it really moves me to meet young men and women who are looking for something else that will give them meaning,” says Irit Lador, head of education at Ramat Hanadiv, “The activities at Ramat Hanadiv give youth a unique experience that connects them to the real world. Their level of commitment to the program exceeded all expectations. The youth also ask to come during their vacation and contribute far more than what is required of them by the Ministry of Education. The interesting content, the time spent in the park, the significant contribution and the students’ connection with Yaniv make the program fascinating and delightful.”
Soon everyone will reach the end point; from here they will continue on to eat lunch together in a nearby restaurant. What a wonderful beginning to the weekend.
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