Tanzania can easily help Israel transfer its wild donkey herds

30Dec 2017
The Guardian
Tanzania can easily help Israel transfer its wild donkey herds

AT a time when controversies stalk African countries in view of changing realities in Middle East politics, opportunities of a kind may open up which reduce differences and offer new topics for discussion.

That is an idea that some environmentalists are coming up in view of a problem faced by Israeli authorities in a conservation and farming area close to Negev desert, of what to do with up to 500 wild donkeys according to farmers in the area, while conservationists pull down those estimates to hardly more than 300 animals.

As a matter of fact, the farmers could do without the herds altogether, but the feeling is: they shouldn't be shot.

A recent write-up in the English edition of Israeli daily Haaretz and available for some bona fide local readers on internet gave a detailed explanation of how those animals came to be there, as the last Biblical wild asses were shot down around 1927 according to chroniclers.

The story of the animals is a sort of chronicle of changing Middle East realities, as their road to extinction is said to have been prepared by actions of British adventurer and kingmaker, Lawrence of Arabia who was pivotal in the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He is said to have distributed hundreds of thousands of rifles, for use against Ottoman Turkish rule.

Extinction of the animals and extinction of Ottoman rule soon led to a new phase, reintroducing the animals from Iran, during a time when Israel has cosy relations with Iran under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, otherwise known as the Shah of Iran.

It was after Israel's stunning victory in the Six Day War in 1967, where in 1968 three pairs of Persian wild asses were brought in exchange for 20 deer from a nature reserve which then put out those animals into the wild.

Facing no predators, they grew into large herds during these intervening decades, and now cause havoc to local farmers, erase skimpy vegetation, impair fragile water infrastructures.

They would cause no such havoc, let alone harm, if they were shifted to a similar place in the Tanzanian wild, in a large batch for close monitoring or scattered in appropriate areas.

A commentator quoted in the Israeli daily said those animals "should be expelled to Rwanda," which by comparison has its gorilla nature sanctuaries and not so expansive wildlife areas as is the case for Tanzania, and indeed they don't have an acute foreign policy issue that merits being counterbalanced by that kind of initiative. In both regards it would be a bit of a surplus to their needs, as they probably can do without such animals, seeking no favors.

Perhaps there is a little trouble in the way those animals would fit into what we call nature here as different from their usual habitat, as they aren't used to predators.

In a Darwinian context, living without predators for 90 years may have impaired their reflexes, and in any case asses, a species of donkey, isn't one to survive zones heavily infested with fast predators.

But in many societies that sort of threat was ended by centuries of hunting, as most territory became domesticated in large measure, with outlying areas having vegetation and animal species that easily cohabit with one another. That may have to be factored into how we get them.

That would provide a curious conservation topic, a point of focus with aspects of Israeli society interested in how their wild donkeys were getting on, in the coming years. It is clearly a worthwhile project.

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