The State of Israel will close eight caves beginning the end of October through early January in order to protect its bats. The move by the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and the state's Nature and Parks Authority comes in an effort to save the rare insectivorous creatures.
Among the targeted caves to be closed this season are the Alma caves in Upper Galilee, the Twins cave, Sarach cave and Namer cave in Western Galilee, the Oranit caves in Mt. Carmel, the Huta 6 cave at Mt. Meron, and the Berenice cave near Tiberias. Nine different species, comprising thousands of the rare bats, once made the network of Alma caves their home. Now only a few dozen of the creatures are left.
Israel is home to 33 different species of bats – including one that is locally extinct -- which play an important role in the local ecological system of the country. Some types of bats eat plants which depend on the night-flyers for pollination and seed dispersal. Others, misnamed as “fruit bats,” do not eat fruit but do eat insects, many of which damage agricultural pests.
Bats are light sleepers while hibernating in winter. They are particularly sensitive to disturbances such as the light and noise created by tourists entering caves. Once awakened, they need to eat in order to raise their body temperature to survive – and if food is not quickly available, their energy quickly drops, and they die.
According to conservationists Benny Shalmon and Carmi Korine, as of 2003, four species of Israel's bats were critically endangered, 16 were classified as endangered, eight were considered vulnerable, two were “near threatened” and the status of one was undetermined due to lack of information.
Israel's bats comprise about a third of its total mammal population, and are also found in caves in the Dead Sea region and the Negev Desert.