• Issue: February 1971
  • Designer: M. & G. Shamir
  • Plate no.: 308 - 311
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Method of printing: Photolithography

The animal world that surrounded our ancestors during the Biblical period was quite different from the one we are familiar with. It is true that most of the fishes, amphibian reptiles and birds then extant are still with us, but the large and medium-sized mammals which provided the prophets with their fables and the poets with their metaphors have become extinct, or been reduced virtually to zero.

Quite naturally, it was the large herbivorous mammals such as the hippopotamus, the red deer, the roebuck and the wild ass which first disappeared from the country. As these vanished and their natural habitats were destroyed, the lion, panther and leopard, large carnivorae which preyed on the hoofed animals, diminished as well. A number of medium-sized mammals did survive beyond the Biblical period. The wild goat, the wild sheep, the gazelle, the bear, and the cheetah were known in Israel and adjacent countries in the last century; the ibex, two species of deer, the boar, the leopard, the wolf and the hyena still exist in Israel and enjoy the protection of the law. A number of the species that have disappeared from the country are to be found in remote and inaccessible areas in other Middle Eastern countries. The Nature Reserves Authority is endeavoring to obtain samples of these species in order to reacclimatize them to Israel within the confines of a Nature Reserve.

The Fallow Deer (Dama Metopotamica)

The fallow deer is a deer which inhabits cool, damp areas near river banks. It is a member of the deer family, reddish brown in color with small white spots. Only the male has antlers, which fall out at the end of the mating season only to grow back larger and more branched for the next one.

Two species of fallow deer are known. One is still common in Europe and northern Asia over a wide area; the other was formerly found in river bank flora in Israel, Syria, Iraq and Persia. Today, however, there are only about 200 individuals of this species left, living among thickets, poplars and tamarisks of the Dez River valley in Persia.

The bones and antlers of this lovely deer were discovered in considerable numbers among the prehistoric finds of digs on Mount Carmel, in Galilee and the Jordan Valley, and there is no doubt that large numbers of fallow deer once lived in the country. Tristram, the first modern investigator of Holy Land fauna, reported on fallow deer he had seen at Mount Tabor, so that it is quite likely that a hundred years ago, forests were still providing a haven for the last of this species. International efforts are now being made to save the fallow deer, and Israel is eagerly awaiting its return to its homeland.

The Cheetah (Acynonyx Iubatus)

A carnivorous mammal of the cat family, it is a sandy brown with round black spots scattered over its body and legs. Its long tail has black rings ending in a light tassel. The cheetah's body is especially adapted to fast running, and feeds on deer and other plain antelopes which its speed enables it to catch. The cheetah is regarded as the fastest animal of all, and tests have indicated that it may exceed 100 km/h over short distances. The animal's ability to hunt ungulates was known in primitive times, when cheetahs were trained to hunt wild game.

Formerly, the cheetah's habitat extended from South Africa through East Africa to North Africa and the Middle East, to the deserts of Persia and Afghanistan, to the Indian subcontinent. This distribution parallels that of the various deer which constitute the principal item of the cheetah's diet. The deer population of the Middle East, Africa and India, has declined considerably in the twentieth century, and consequently the cheetah population has too. A few dozen individuals of the subspecies that once abounded in southern Israel have been located in remote regions of Iran. When deer have increased sufficiently in the Israel Negev, it will be possible to restore the cheetah to its wild state in the desert. The cheetah is not dangerous to Man. There is no doubt that there were cheetah in Israel during the Biblical period, but the earliest mention of the animal is to be found in the Talmud.

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Nature Reserves (II)