Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Snappers On A Plane

Yesterday, a man arriving at Ben Gurion airport was discovered to have all kinds of exotic reptiles hidden in his luggage. Aside from pythons and blue-tongued skinks, he also had several baby alligator snapping turtles. These can reach a weight of two hundred pounds and are lethal predators!
Such animals are not suitable for home ownership, and if they escape or are released into the wild can cause damage to the ecosystem. While these particular reptiles were returned to the country of origin, this is not always possible. The Nature and Parks Authority has brought several such confiscated creatures to the museum in the past, including a snapper turtle, where they are housed safely and will never be released into the wild.

Invasive species are a problem. The most commonly seen bird in Israel (aside perhaps from the pigeon) is the mynah - which is from India. The next most commonly seen bird is the raucous ringneck parakeet, also from India. These birds escaped from pet stores and became established in the wild in Israel, displacing native species.

While the animal world of the Bible is the animal life of Biblical lands, unfortunately it is not the animal life of Israel today. Many Biblical animals have disappeared from the region, including hippos, lions, and bears. But many foreign animals are now common. And removing invasive species is generally impossible. 

Some animal-loving immigrants to Israel get frustrated that they can't buy the pets that they were able to buy in the UK and US. But there are good reasons for it. Israel is a small and delicate ecosystem, and the Nature & Parks Authority has the difficult task of preserving it as best as possible. 

Alas, the Biblical animal landscape will never return. But you can see what it used to look like by visiting the Biblical Museum of Natural History! We are already taking bookings for Pesach tours (which are bound to sell out!)

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  1. One can get hard time in the USA for smuggling endangered animals. This one should be fun:

    Are the penalties serious in Israel?

  2. If you dont mind me plugging one of your fellow museums...
    In the new Gottesman Aquarium in Jerusalem, I was amazed to learn the story of the sea life in the Meditteranean and how it was affected by invasive species coming through the Suez canal.
    It was fascinating (and one of the best Aquarium's I've ever seen. It is truly educational as opposed to just jaw-dropping).
    Not just the land of israel's life is changing, but also the seas of israel's life is changing

  3. I find the angle of conservation & judaism v. interesting in the context of IL. You are one of the very few scholars tackling these issues -- but the wider impact of development and general attitudes to nature and animals (in IL the region) is profoundly disturbing. Does it play in Orthodoxy? How does Orthodoxy deal with the eradication of species & the encroachment & destruction of their environments. It is one of many chips that has eroded my (personal) religious belief in orthodox norms. I find the lack of interest / care alarming.

    1. Sometimes there might be a little nugget of an idea building off on the bal tashchis sugya - after all, the source of that is the knocking down of fruit trees.

      But yeah, overall not so much.

      There may actually be political reasons to this as well. More environmentalist types tend to be more left wing and antireligious. More religious folk tend to be - or are forced to be, in defense, as some would have it - antiscience and right wing, and therefore against environmentalism.

      Look at the global warming / climate change debate and see who is where.

      At least in Israel, where beautifying and caring for the Land are Torah values, this trend might be lessened. (Are there rabbanim standing against the JNF? I hope not...)

    2. After listening to my shul rabbi mention he hadn't seen a theological response to global warming, I wrote one. If you would like, post your e-mail and I'll send it to you. Or if Rabbi Slifkin will consider, I could send it to him to consider posting.

  4. I agree with you. I've never heard a single drasha from any pulpit, Yeshivish or Modern, addressing this matter. In all likelihood, the rabbis have no knowledge of the subject, so they take the wise path of silence.

    1. In our shul a few months back (Parshat Vayigash) we had a drasha relating to conservation (jumping off from the 7 years of famine in Mitzrayim). One take-away related to Choni Hamaagal and his grandson (Taanit 23): The question presented was - based on what we know about Choni and his grandson, can we explain why their prayers for rain were answered, but not those of other sages? A suggested answer was that they were very conservationist in attitude. The story of the grandson highlights it - he wouldn't use his cloak to carry wood because it would cause the cloak to wear out quicker; he wouldn't wear his shoes when not absolutely necessary, because they too would wear out quicker; when he walked through thorns, he would lift the hem on his clothing to allow his legs to get scratched (which will heal) rather than risk tearing his clothing. So the proposal was, Mida K'neged Mida, since they were careful with conserving resources, Hashem was especially responsive to their requests for the precious resource of rain.

  5. Interesting related story recently published:

  6. Wow, I never realised these were raucous ringneck parakeets, I though they were from Africa.
    Could you enlighten us also about the black and gray ravens we see all around israeli cities? What's there name and where are they from, I don't suppose they are endemic?


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