Israeli bird watcher flies to Dubai to promote greener farms
Israel’s own “Birdman” Prof. Yossi Leshem, showcased his famous “Owls for Peace” project at the opening of the Dubai Expo in the United Arab Emirates earlier this month.
For nearly 40 years, the Tel Aviv University ornithologist’s eco-friendly project – which promotes barn owls as biological pest control agents instead of toxic pesticides – has fostered cooperation among farmers Jews and Muslims from Israel and its neighbors.
A family of barn owls can consume between 2,000 and 6,000 destructive rodents annually. But since birds know no boundaries, the project only works if farmers from surrounding fields join in. Otherwise, the owls would be killed by the chemical pesticides spread in these fields.
Owls for Peace became a national initiative in 2008 in cooperation with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and government ministries of Agriculture, Environmental Protection and Regional Cooperation.
“Today, we have integrated into the project Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Morocco, Greece, Cyprus and Switzerland – seven countries! Leshem said. “We hope Dubai will join us soon too. “
It is a probable possibility. Following his visit, Leshem received an email from Hiba Obaid Mohammed Al Shehhi, director of the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and EnvironmentMarine Biodiversity Section.
“We were impressed with the [barn owl] project and its impact, and we are excited to seek ways to implement the project in the UAE, ”she wrote to Leshem.
Owls for Peace could be part of a memorandum of understanding on environmental cooperation to be signed by Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Leshem says barn owls can save millions of precious Emirati date palms from rats – which can climb trees – without using chemical pesticides.
Leshem’s delegation to Dubai included representatives from Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco and Switzerland.
The Swiss Pavilion will host the exhibition throughout the six months of Expo Dubai, an event that is expected to attract around 25 million visitors.
In 2020, the Owls for Peace project led to the installation of approximately 5,000 barn owl nesting boxes on Israeli farms.
“We started with 14 boxes at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in 1983,” Leshem points out.
Owls: the new symbol of peace
There are around 390 nesting boxes in Jordan, 120 in the Palestinian Authority territories, around 600 in Cyprus and 110 in Greece to date. In January, Leshem will travel to Morocco to help choose the best fields in which to set up the first nesting boxes.
Leshem’s colleague in Morocco, Professor Imad Cherkaoui, also hopes to involve Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia in Barn Owls for Peace. Cherkaoui’s participation in the presentation of the project at the Expo made headlines in Morocco.
“We also had a meeting with a key person from Bahrain who wants to come to Israel and find out more,” Leshem explains.
He will host a five-day international seminar in Israel next month to present the owl project and related new research.
“Everyone at the Expo was very excited to hear what we are doing,” Leshem told ISRAEL21c. “The barn owl replaces the dove of peace. It’s not just a symbol; it does the job.
Leshem is still keen to spread the message far and wide. He visited the Vatican in 2019 to present the Barn Owls for Peace project to the Pope.
His children’s book on barn owls, available in Hebrew, Arabic and English, is called Buma the barn owl: the farmer’s friend.