Bunkers and bomb shelters dot the historic Jordan River Valley between Israel and Jordan. Since the peace agreement of 1994, most have been abandoned – except by an assortment of bats, which roost precariously on the slick ceilings and walls. Giving a conservationist twist to the notion of beating swords into plowshares, a group of Israelis, with support from BCI’s Global Grassroots Conservation Fund, converted these old bunkers into prime bat roosts.
The valley, with its rich soil, warm climate and water from the river and frequent oases, hosts remarkably diverse flora and fauna, including at least 27 bat species. Except for the Egyptian rousette fruit bat, all are insect eaters. There are many farms on both sides of the river, including numerous organic date-palm plantations. These bats – as consumers of agricultural pests – are significant assets for farmers; increasing their numbers promises real benefits, says team leader Eran Levin, a graduate student in zoology at Tel Aviv University.
Levin had previously surveyed most of these bunkers, which are located between the river and Israeli border fences. They are rarely visited.
The team located more than 20 abandoned bunkers, with a dozen bat species using them as roosts. But the metal ceilings and walls are too slick for bats to easily cling to. They found bats hanging from aging electric cables and assorted braces and shelves. Some bunkers were almost filled with abandoned equipment and assorted rubbish, while the entrances to others were closed or blocked.
The bunker-conversion team included Eran Amichai of Tel Aviv University, Amit Dolev of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Aviam Atar of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. They first cleared trash and entrance obstructions, then covered the slick, metal ceilings with bat-friendly materials that give the animals a rough surface they can grasp securely. Crews applied various combinations of plaster mixed with gravel, attaching plastic mesh, installing simple wood structures, stretching ropes or spraying a layer of lumpy, polyurethane foam.
We fully converted eight bunkers. The bats quickly embraced their remodeled roosts and began moving in almost immediately. The most common species using the bunkers during summer is the trident leaf-nosed bat, with several thousand individuals form the species’ only known maternity colony in Israel.
We fully expect increasing numbers of bats, as well as additional species, to colonize these much-improved roosts – finding refuge in these military relics.