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Why shepherds need not watch their flocks by night

by Harry de Quetteville, Sunday Telegraph 24/12/2006

Palestinian shepherds used to watching their flocks by night can rest a little easier this Christmas, thanks to unusual glad tidings brought by Israel's "security barrier".

Israel built the barrier, which snakes through hundreds of miles of the West Bank as protection against suicide bombers. But while the 30ft-high, concrete and chain-link barricade is widely loathed by most Palestinians, it is proving a valuable shield for shepherds in the north of the territory against wolves.

The wolves are originally from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where they have long roamed the rugged and largely deserted landscape.

In recent years, their numbers have multiplied and packs have spread to both sides of the Sea of Galilee, where the gospels tell of Jesus walking on water.

From there they colonised the Gilboa mountains and especially when food was scarce would roam into the West Bank, near the town of Jenin, threatening Palestinian livestock.

Dror Pevsner, northern director of Israel's Nature and Parks Authority (NPA), said: "The wolves would head into the West Bank to eat. There are a lot of Palestinian shepherds around Jenin."

But now the wolves are being kept from their usual source of supper by the West Bank barrier.

Alon Reichmann, a predator expert with the NPA, said: "Along the Gilboa the fence separates wolves from their ranging areas."

Instead, Israeli cattle farmers and their livestock are now paying the price of a lupine population explosion.

Ten years ago, there were just two or three wolf packs in the region. Now the NPA estimates there are 15, each with five adults and young. Ofer Israel, a Golan rancher who owns 220 cattle, said: "The wolf population is growing far too fast.

"They're fast and they're smart, and they take calves and colts up to a year old. I've even seen a pack of six attack a 300kg heifer.

"They are killing our living. Each animal they kill is worth 4,000 shekels (500) and if you let them alone they would kill 15 to 20 head per 100 cattle. In the past two months I've lost six calves to them."

Mr Israel said that he and other cattle farmers often took matters into their own hands, ignoring strict regulations in much of the Golan aimed at protecting the wolf. "I've tried to shoot them, but often they just disappear before you can get your gun," he admitted.

Now much of the Golan pasture is ringed by 8ft high electric fences designed specifically to ward off wolves. "But the wolf is always learning," said Mr Reichmann. "Some can even climb these fences."

Wolves also team up with other animals to circumvent the barriers. "Porcupines are very good at digging under fences, and wild boars are very strong and can tear some down. Then the wolf follows," Mr Reichmann said. "Every year we see that they are migrating further and further."

But even the combined efforts of the Holy Land's wildest wildlife cannot break through the West Bank barrier.

"It's a problem," said Mr Reichmann. But he said that a solution to his troubles may be on the way, which could put an end to Palestinian shepherds' "Silent Night".

"We are asking for holes under the fence, something which humans couldn't get through but which animals could," he said. "It would be like a cat-flap for wolves."

For once, perhaps, Palestinians will be hoping the Israeli army vetos any breaches of the barrier.

Publishers wishing to reproduce photographs on this page should phone 44 (0) 207 538 7505 or e-mail syndication@telegraph.co.uk


Laura Schneberger

Gila Livestock Growers Association

P.O. Box 111

Winston NM 87943






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