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Why is Israel’s mountain gazelle endangered?

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A new research study conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev delves into the possible causes of why the gazelle’s diminishing numbers.

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a bid to highlight Israel’s endangered mountain gazelle, researchers at Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev looked into what’s possibly causing their diminishing numbers.

The ‘Gazella gazella’ was once widespread throughout the Fertile Crescent in parts of present-day Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iraq. 

The new research effort led by Prof. Yoram Yom-Tov of TAU and Dr. Uri Roll of BGU, together with Amir Balaban, Ezra Hadad, and Gilad Weil, discusses the mountain gazelle dynamics in Israel from the beginning of the 20th century and provides an outlook for the conservation of the species. 

“Most of its former distribution range overlaps with areas in the region that are now densely populated by people,” the researchers explained. “Archaeological remains also indicate that gazelles were the main prey hunted by people throughout the Pleistocene.” 

According to the researchers, until the 19th century, the mountain gazelle survived this hunting pressure and even continued to thrive. 

However, their study pointed out, the rise in human population in this region from around 5.7 million to 66.5 million during 1900–2016, together with the increased use of firearms and off-road vehicles for hunting, led to the extinction of gazelles from most of this area. 

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority are currently the last strongholds of the mountain gazelle and are home to about 5,000 individuals,” the researchers said.

“Greater efforts should be made to eliminate poaching of gazelles, on the legislative, enforcement, and education fronts.”

During the 1900s, Israel’s human population increased steadily by 2% per year. The human population density is currently around. 430 persons per square kilometer and is forecasted to continue to rise. 

“This presents an array of threats to the mountain gazelle,” the study explained. “These include: habitat change; fragmentation and isolation by roads, railways and fences, predation by an increasing population of natural predators and feral dogs, poaching, and collisions with road traffic. These threats often act in synergy, amplifying their effects.”

The study also presented an overview of how these factors threatened and continue to threaten the survival of this species. 

In addition, they analyzed connectivity of gazelle populations in the landscape, highlighting highly fragmented populations.

The researchers made several suggestions to help preserve and protect the mountain gazelle including the improvement of connectivity like the construction of road over/underpasses in strategic locations, translocation of individuals when needed, and better monitoring of potential genetic bottlenecks of the at-risk population.

When it comes to reducing the effects of predation, they suggested “reinstating the control of feral dogs, and improved management of anthropogenic waste. 

Mountain gazelle population dynamics since 1920, highlighting the main drivers of its population change

“Furthermore, greater efforts should be made to eliminate poaching of gazelles, on the legislative, enforcement, and education fronts,” the researchers continued. “More broadly, Israel’s human population is expected to double in the next thirty years – which will have grave implications on many local species and ecosystems, some of which are of global importance.” 

They also stressed that “efforts should be made at the national level to limit this growth and stop further land conversions from natural habitats to other uses.

“As more and more regions are converted to human-dominated landscapes, pressures on wildlife will continue to increase, and lessons from the mountain gazelle could prove valuable elsewhere.” the researchers concluded.Their findings were published in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation on Wednesday.

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