On Sunday, the Worenklein contingent headed back to Jerusalem and the other 10 of us went to the Hula Valley Nature Reserve, about 30 mins. north of the kibbutz. The Hula Valley is internationally known among bird-watchers as a crucial stop for migratory birds and as a permanent home for tens of thousands of birds, including (according to the park website) cranes, storks, pelicans, cormorants and egrets. Depending on the source, I’ve read that there are anywhere from 200 to 500 different species of birds that live and/or pass through Hula. Hula, which means “paper reed”, is named after the papyrus that grows in abundance in the marsh.
Water buffalos graze in their folds helping to maintain the meadows.
Other wildlife that we saw include 3-ft long catfish, which migrated to the Hula from Africa long ago when the Great Rift was flooded, turtles, and birds of prey.
The nutria is like a cross between a beaver and a rat and was brought to Israel under the same circumstances it was introduced to Louisiana – originally it was to be bred for its fur, but some of the animals escaped and now they have settled all over the Hula, just like they can be found in the swamps of the southern US. The ones we saw were either used to human visitors or they were deaf and/or blind because we were able to get quite close to them as they nibbled on the grass before they scampered away.
The Hula Lake & its marshlands originally covered 15,000 acres in the Hula valley. When Zionists settled in the area in the early 1900′s, they famously contracted malaria, which spurred the movement to drain all of the swamps and is part of the reason why the “plant a tree in Israel” campaign was so successful. By the mid-1950′s the swamp began to be drained, but environmentalists argued that too many plants, animals & ecosystems would be lost if it were completely drained, so about 10% of the swamp was allowed to stay intact. This turned out not to be enough, and many animals disappeared from the Hula Valley forever; some exist in other parts of the world, some are now extinct. In an effort to repair the damage, the Israel Nature and National Parks Protections Authority and the Jewish National Fund began re-flooding a part of what used to be the the Hula Swamp about 15 years ago. Now there is a “new Hula”, which we will have to return to explore another day.