Hai Bar . . . Arava Ostriches

Did you ever play Animal Lotto as a kid, the Memory game of matching picture pairs?  That’s where I first learned about the Ostrich, the Platypus, and many other unique curiosities of the animal world. 

Many years later, I saw Ostriches for the first time in the wild at the Hai Bar, a large preserve established in the 1970’s in the Arava Desert in southern Israel. The preserve is adjacent to Kibbutz Yotvata, about 30 minutes north of the Red Sea.Watching a real live Ostrich in its natural surroundings is astonishing!  My husband and I were lucky enough to spot these gigantic birds at the Hai Bar from the roadside as we were driving north from Eilat last week.  We noticed that when they encountered one another, this pair in the video clip above began running back and forth, as if playing a chasing game. Or . . . maybe it’s mating season!

An Ostrich can be up to 9 feet tall, weigh 150-300 or more pounds, and run at a sustained speed of 30+ mph, but cannot fly.  Interestingly, their eyes (about 2″ across) are the largest of any land animal – considerably larger than their brains!!

Although there are varied opinions as to the precise identification of the Ostrich in the Torah, it first appears when included among the list of non-kosher birds in the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), Shemini 11:16:

13 And among birds, you shall hold these in abomination; they shall not be eaten; they are an abomination: The eagle [or the griffin vulture], the kite, the osprey,

יגוְאֶת אֵלֶּה תְּשַׁקְּצוּ מִן הָעוֹף לֹא יֵאָכְלוּ שֶׁקֶץ הֵם אֶת הַנֶּשֶׁר וְאֶת הַפֶּרֶס וְאֵת הָעָזְנִיָּה:

 . . . . 16 the ostrich, the jay, and the sparrow hawk, and the goshawk after its species;

 טזוְאֵת בַּת הַיַּעֲנָה וְאֶת הַתַּחְמָס וְאֶת הַשָּׁחַף וְאֶת הַנֵּץ לְמִינֵהוּ: 

The Ostrich is also mentioned in the Book of Job, and in the Talmud. Once prevalent in Israel and throughout the Middle East, the Ostrich was hunted nearly to extinction in recent times (Jewish Virtual Library), and no longer existed in Israel after the 1930’s. In the early 1970’s, the Hai Bar began “a reintroduction programme …raising birds in captivity for release into the wild” (A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Israel and the Middle East, by Cottridge & Porter, 2007, p. 14). 

 Ostriches are still quite widespread in many parts of Africa. See African Wildlife Foundation and Bird Life International for more interesting information about this fascinating creature.

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