Jewish Heritage Lecture Series: ‘Reintroduction of Endangered and Extinct Animal and Bird Species to Israel’ by Avinoam Lourie on Oct. 28th

As part of the Jewish Heritage Lecture Series, Avinoam Lourie will be giving a lecture entitled “Reintroduction of Endangered and Extinct Animal and Bird Species to Israel” on Wednesday, October 28th at 7pm at the Pyle Center.  Lourie is the retired former director for the Wild Animal Protection for the Israel Nature Reserve Authority and the Haifa Zoological Garden and Center for Biology Education.


In her sixty-one years of existence, an interesting challenge for Israel has been protecting and bringing back wild animals that once thrived in the area…

In the 1970s, a well-known Israeli army general named Avraham Yoffe was appointed General Director of Israel’s Nature. Yoffe initiated the process of “bringing back” some of the Biblical animals that were on the edge of extinction in Israel, establishing two, large, wild, protected nature reserves, one in the extreme south of the country in the Negev (Hai Bar South/Yotvata), and the other (Hai Bar Carmel), near the Mediterranean Sea at the top of Mount Carmel just outside of Haifa.

Animal reintroduction is a very complicated process, including many considerations, such as which animals to reintroduce, do viable food and water sources exist; are the places protected from predators; is there a possibility for the animals to expand to other parts of the country; is there enough genetic variability; and what happens when wild animals come into contact with civilized and agricultural areas?

Finding and acquiring the animals and getting them to reproduce is a major part of the story.

Some of the animals reintroduced to Israel, like the Mesopotamian Fallow Deer, were nearly extinct in the world; some animals, like the Arabian Oryx, only found in Arab countries were not easily available; starting and maintaining breeding nuclei is a highly critical phase of reintroduction; some animals can be released directly; others have to be gradually adjusted to their new surroundings.

There are also “Animal Politics”, i.e. animals sometimes needed from countries not friendly to Israel; such as Israel “acquiring” rare Persian Fallow Deer and onagers from Iran; Arabian Oryx from the United States; Roe Deer from Tuscany, Italy. Plus stories of released animals straying into nearby countries; Israel’s help establishing a zoo in the Occupied Territory of the West Bank (in Kalkilya); and many more.

About the Lecturer:

An only child (actually the first child born at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem in 1939), Avinoam Lourie discovered early that the animals and insects near his home in Jerusalem’s Beit HaKerem neighborhood were his friends, spending every moment in the fields turning over rocks, picking up snakes and scorpions, and finding and caring for small animals.

Since he knew which creatures would be found under specific rocks, Avinoam’s first job, at age 12, was providing scorpions and poisonous snakes to researchers at the Hebrew University, steering his bike with one hand while holding the poisonous snake or box of scorpions in the other! This aided some of the first attempts to develop antivenins for some of the poisonous animals.

Lourie translated his love of animals into degrees in Marine Biology and Zoology from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, followed by research on fish in the Mediterranean that had migrated from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal; heading up the Haifa Zoo (also a regional center for continuing education for teachers to widen their horizons for biology) for ten years; then he worked with the Israel Nature Authority for nearly 25 years to save and bring back near-extinct and endangered animals that once thrived in the Holy Land, before retiring in 2005.

Recently selected as one of the 50 most influential people in Haifa, Lourie spends much of his time volunteering in released-criminal rehabilitation; general education and working with at-risk young people using animals; and establishing and helping maintain “animal schoolyards” for children to learn more about nature and animals in safe, unthreatening atmospheres. He is also is an “expert witness” in poaching cases where animals must be identified by as little as a hair as evidence.

Lourie lectures widely on the animals of Israel, present and past, is working on an autobiography of his life experiences with animals, and is writing children’s books on Animals of the Bible.

This event is sponsored by the UW Center for Jewish Studies.