Check out Israel’s 10 most unusual wild animals

Remember nature? That cool, wild, outdoor concept that we once used to visit, admire, and never run out of trash? Well, it still is, and probably doing all the better now that humanity isn’t out and about to destroy it.

The same can probably be said for the inhabitants who now roam freely in their surroundings, undisturbed by pesky people.

 And when they don’t miss us, we certainly miss them – the cute, unusual, and most importantly, wild animals of Israel – but for a while we need to see them through our computer screens.

Lesser Egyptian jerboa (  Jaculus jaculus  )

Is that a kangaroo? Is that a gerbil? No, it’s a jaculus or lesser Egyptian jerboa – a small, jumping rodent found in the deserts of the Middle East and Africa, including Israel.

The little mouse is a nocturnal, solitary animal with incredible senses of smell, sight, and hearing, allowing it to be aware of everything in its environment. It also has long kangaroo-like legs that enable it to leap about 10 feet at a time and cover long distances in search of food.

In Israel, fewer Egyptian jerboas are declining because construction is reducing their natural habitat and because cats living on the fringes of cities and towns are hunting them, making them a protected species.

Sand cat (  Felis margarita  )

It is a completely wild animal that resembles a bloated kitten at home in the sandy dunes and rocky deserts of Africa and Asia.

Much smaller than domestic cats, sand cats are solitary, nocturnal animals that spend their days hiding and going out at night to hunt their prey, which includes rodents, insects, and lizards.

 Their pale, sandy coat helps them blend in with their surroundings, and the fur on their legs helps protect them from the heat.

Sand cats have not been found in Israel in recent years, perhaps indicating that they are extinct in the area, with a possible explanation being that they were pushed out of their habitat by large numbers of fox-like large dogs. Let’s hope not.

Near Eastern Fire Salamander (  Salamandra infraimmaculata  )

The Near Eastern Fire Salamander can be found in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq. In Israel, they live north to the Carmel and Galilee regions and are considered an endangered, protected species.

Fire salamanders are black in color with yellow or orange spots on their backs that vary from animal to animal. Two venom glands on the back of their necks secrete venom.

In the past, they were believed to be born in fire and carry ominous signs, but in reality they need a wet and humid environment to grow and thrive. They do not bring bad luck to anyone, save the small insects that eat them.

Syrian spadefoot toad (  Pelobates syriacus  )

Plump, shiny, and with big bulging eyes, the Syrian Spadefoot is perhaps as cute as a toad. Its natural habitat stretches from Eastern Europe to Western Asia, with Israel being the southernmost place you’ll find it.

 Syrian spadefoots were first recorded in Israel in the late 19th century, and their numbers have been declining over the past few decades – today there are a few hundred individuals.

 According to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, conservation of existing winter lakes can be helped by protecting them from drainage and pollution, as well as creating artificial lakes.

Like many of their wild compatriots, these toads are nocturnal animals that hunt at night and spend the hot days inside burrows, sometimes even aestivating (as in hibernating, only in summer). Which to be honest is our current situation.

Marbled Polecat (  Vormella peregusna  )

Not to be confused with skunks (although they also emit a strong odor when threatened), marbled polecats are small predators with poor eyesight and a good sense of smell.

They can be found everywhere from Southeast Europe to China, and in Israel they   first appeared in the early 20th century in Jerusalem and the Dead Sea area Since then they have made their way south into the desert, perhaps following the spread of agriculture in that once arid region.

The number of marbled polecats in Israel is unknown, and it is difficult to capture or observe them in their natural habitat. They are active mostly in the morning and evening and do not sleep in the same place twice, instead looking for a new place to lay their head each night.

caracal (  caracal caracal  )

A beautiful wild cat species, the caracal can be found all over Israel, from the Golan Heights to the Dead Sea, and in fact seems to have increased in numbers and distribution over the years.

Caracals usually live alone but have also been seen in small groups. Although they live on the ground, they are also expert tree climbers and mainly hunt rabbits and pheasants.

While not endangered, they are considered a vulnerable species and it is illegal to kill them, as is sometimes the case around the world, with meat and skin hunters and farmers out to protect their livestock.

Hula Painted Frog (  Latonia nigriventer  )

And now, a bit of good news: The Hula painted frog that lives in the Hula Lake marshes was thought to have become extinct when the marsh was drained in the 1950s. In 2011, however, a park ranger found a frog he didn’t recognize and took it to experts, who determined it was indeed an iconic species.

While currently a critically endangered species, at least the hula painted frog is still alive. It is estimated that a few hundred frogs still live in their native habitat.

Palestine Mountain Gazelle (  Gazella gazella  )

If you’ve ever gone hiking in Israel, you’ve probably come across a mountain gazelle or two. They have been here for a long time and are even mentioned in the Bible.

Mountain gazelles live mainly in the Judean and Negev deserts and are fragile-looking animals with thin legs and short horns. But don’t let their strange appearance fool you – they are very fast and can run up to 50 mph. They live in very busy communal lives, living in packs by gender and age.

Arabian Leopard (  Panthera pardus nimmer  )

Arabian leopards are a legend in Israel, hikers go out of their way to spot them, and children are told not to wander in fear of them. Yet unfortunately, as the leopard is on the verge of extinction, its chances of escape are incredibly slim.

If you find one, you’ll notice it’s small size, long tail, pale yellow coat, and black spots (not to mention the fact that it’s the only type of leopard living in Israel). And you can rest assured – leopards do not eat humans, but small prey such as rabbits, mice and other small animals.

Blind Scorpion (  Akrav Israchani  )

We must admit that this is no longer walking on holy ground. But it’s too cool not to mention, so here we go.

In 2006, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discovered eight completely unknown, preserved ancient species in the Eilon Cave, one of which was the blind scorpion.

Named after the explorers of the cave, the blind scorpion was unfortunately found dead, but its contemporaries may have crawled through the dark, deep protective shell around them. Marine and freshwater crustaceans and other terrestrial species were also found, all related but distinct from modern-day animals.

Check out Israel’s 10 most unusual wild animals

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