Situated in the southern Arava, north of Eilat, the Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve is a 4,000 acre breeding and reclamation area, run by the National Parks Authority and the Israel Nature Reserves. The nature reserve is the desert counterpart of the Hai-Bar Carmel Nature Reserve that operates in the northern Mediterranean forest.
It has been established to nurture and breed locally extinct animals mentioned in the Bible as well as other desert animals that are on the brink of extinction for possible reintroduction to Negev desert. The nature reserve covers an array of arid-land habitats such as sand, salt-flats and acacia groves. The Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve consists of three areas – the open area, the Predators Center and the Desert Night Life Exhibition Hall.
In Hai-Bar Yotvata’s open area, they prepare desert animals for reintroduction to the Negev by placing them in acclimation pens. The onager, a brown wild Asian ass was the first to be reintroduced in the wild. The Arabian oryx, a herbivorous antelope is well adapted to the harsh environment of the desert. Herds of Arabian oryx travel great distances to search for water and food. Mentioned in the Bible, along with the onager, the African wild ass is the ancestor of the modern domesticated donkeys. This animal is extremely rare both in captivity and in nature. Due to the difficulty in propagating this species, African wild ass will not be reintroduced on the Negev.
Other rare species that can be found in the open area of the Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve include scimitar horned oryx, addax and the 2 ½ meter tall ostrich, which is the biggest bird alive today.
The Predator Center of Hai-Bar Yotvata houses the three types of predators – hyenas, canines and felines. Some of the canines at the Center include the Blanford’s fox, which was first discovered in the early 1980s; and sand fox. Visitors can also see fennec, the smallest canine in the world, and the wolf, the biggest canine in Israel.
Some of the felines that you can observe include sand cat, caracal and the leopard. The Center also houses three striped hyena, a carrion eater that act as nature’s sanitation engineers. They also have agamas, rodents, lizards and desert dwelling snakes, diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey as well as carrion eaters. Inside a vast cage is three of the four carrion-eating birds in Israel – the Egyptian vulture, the Griffith vulture and the Lappet-faced Vulture.
Most desert animals are primarily active at night. As such, visitors who visit the park during the day won’t see the local animals. With this, the Desert Night Life Exhibition Hall will change the day into night for you. During the day, the hall will simulate nighttime, with high humidity, low temperatures and special lighting, evoking a feeling of gentle moonlight. Thus, visitors can see desert animals when they are active. There are plenty of animals inside the hall including the desert hedgehog, the garden dormouse, Egyptian fruit bat, reptiles, arthropods and small nocturnal birds of prey.
As a reminder, the Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve is not a zoo, but a place to restore endangered animals and reintroduce them to the wild. The reserve is open daily from 8:30am to 5pm.