Nature Reseves In The Negev
For those who haven’t visited the Negev desert of Israel, the area may present itself as a monotonous wasteland devoid of life; but the person who tours its expanses will discover that it is rich in scenery: high mountain peaks and deep canyons, Hamada plains standing out darkly against white sand dunes, each landscape with its own distinct biological system, hollowed by springs and water. Here, as many as 1,200 plant species are to be found. Of these, 76 are endemic – they can't be found anywhere else in the world; they include Iris edumensis, Tulipa polychroma and Rheum palaestinum.
The Negev also harbours an abundance of wildlife: 45 reptile species, 55 species of resident birds (not to mention the hundreds of species migrating over the area), 40 mammal species, including carnivores such as the leopard, the wolf and the caracal. In the 90’s, the big herbivores gazelle and ibex have been joined by the onagers (Equus hemionus) which, reintroduced after being extinct in the country for hundreds of years and having undergone a period of acclimatization in the Hay-Bar Yotvata Biblical Wildlife Reserve, were set free in the depths of Makhtesh Ramon. Only in the wide spaces of the Negev can these species survive, each by itself and all of them together as a whole biological ecosystem. This, because despite all the efforts of the Nature Reserves Authority, the chances of hyenas, wolves, and in particular leopards coexisting with the dense, contiguous settlements in Northern Israel are rather slim.
This rich world of nature, in concert with the abundant archaeological relics, is a treasure which attracts researchers, nature lovers, hikers and tourists.
The Negev Mountain (Makhtesh Ramon) Nature Reserve –
Extending over 250,000 acres and comprising Makhtesh Ramon and the high Negev mountains, this is Israel's biggest nature reserve. Makhtesh – a crater generated due to unique conditions (see below) – is a unique geological phenomenon peculiar to the Negev and Sinai deserts. The largest is Makhtesh Ramon, where nature has exposed a series of singular geological phenomena (one of them, Ha-Minsara which means The Carpentry Shop, is depicted on the stamp; it is a low hill in the center of Machtesh Ramon made up of black prismatic rocks, the only place in the world where prisms made of heated sand turned into liquid which, in cooling naturally formed rectangular and hexagonal prisms).
Nature also created a rich habitat of plant and wildlife in Makhtesh Ramon. One can also find in it an abundance of archaeological sites – strongholds, caravansaries, ancient roads, and relics of ancient agriculture from the times of the kings of Judea and the Nabateans.
The makhtesh was initially a hump-shaped mountain. Erosion by water and climatic forces first flatten the mountain, revealing soft rocks which were once covered by thick layers of much harder rocks. Approximately five million years ago, the Arava Rift Valley was formed, with rivers changing their courses, and starting to carve out the inside of the crater. The crater bottom, made of the soft rocks, continued to deepen at a much faster rate than the surrounding walls, which gradually increased in height. As the crater deepened, more layers of ancient rock were exposed with rocks at the bottom of the crater being the oldest exposed sedimentary rocks in Israel (from the Triassic period). Today, the crater is 350m deep. Its maximum length and width are 40km and 9km respectfully. At the deepest point one can find Ein Saharonim – a spring which sustains much of the wildlife in the makhtesh including onagers and ibex.
Opened in 2013, the new Mitzpe Ramon Visitor Center is set on the northern cliffs of Machtesh Ramon, and tells the geological story behind this unique and amazing work of nature. It offers a stunning view of the crater and also serves as a museum and memorial for Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who died in 2003 when the Shuttle Columbia disintegrated when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.
The Ein Zin Nature Reserve –
This reserve typifies the desert oases of the Negev. Ein Zin is one of a series of springs rising in Nahal Zin, providing support for numerous palm trees, Euphrates poplars and lush river-bank vegetation, as well as many wild animals.
The She'zaf Nature Reserve –
Located in the Northern Arava, the reserve is characterized by a dense growth of large jujube and acacia trees producing the effect of an African savannah. This concentration of vegetation has gathered about it a diversified bio-system from the different species of carnivores and herbivores down to the smallest of reptiles and insects. A large herd of Arabian gazelles used to roam this region in the past, and nests of Lappet-faced vultures could be found there. Both these species have been wiped out from its landscapes. Now that the area has been declared a nature reserve and surrounded by a fence, the Nature Reserves Authority is making every effort to restore these and other animals to it.
The three stamps in the series Nature reseves in the Negev were issued in 1988. Designer: E. Weishoff. The other two stamps in the series are featured in the previous entry (with the Hebrew version of this article).