Monday, 2 August 2010
The man who flies with birds
Photo courtesy AF Tel Aviv University
I have met very few “great” people in my life. By “great” I mean the kind of person who has achieved much and yet has lived humbly under the mantle of that greatness.
Last night, I met such a person. He was a delightful cocktail of scientist and conservationist who exuded the contagious wonder of a child. If I said that he has done revolutionary research to prevent bird strikes on military aircraft, you might shrug and wonder what is so great about that? Well apart from reducing the number of bird strikes at low level flying by 76%, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in military hardware and preserving precious lives, he has also mobilised an entire nation to become sympathetic to the bird life which migrates over it each year. Not only his own nation, but also the “enemy” next door. So strong and genuine are the relationships built during this research, that the “enemy” was allowed to speak at the nation’s parliament and be an advocate for “cross border conservation cooperation”.
Meet Dr Yossi Leshem who has spent nearly 40 years as an environmentalist in his native Israel. To quote from the University of Tel Aviv website:
In 2005 he won the prestigious Mike Kuhring Prize for achievements of high significance for an improved flight safety concerning the bird problems of aviation, and for his mission to connect safety with nature conservation via education that gave bird strike prevention world wide appreciation.
Leshem is involved in a variety of activities in bird migration research, in educational activities that take place in over 250 schools in Israel part of cooperation with the Palestinians and the Jordanians, and has developed an educational and scientific site on the Internet (www.birds.org.il ) called "Migrating Birds Know No Boundaries".
Leshem developed a six year research and an educational program in cooperation with the Palestinians and Jordanians under the same title as the web site.
Leshem initiated a program to use Barn Owls and Kestrels as pest controllers to reduce the use of pesticides in agricultural fields, which became a national program and a regional project with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
Leshem is a Recipient of "Lifetime Achievement Award for Environmental Protection" in 2008.
And a few bird facts from Israel. Over 500 million birds migrate each year via Israel from Asia and Europe to Africa. Israel has 540 native birds or 24 types per 1000 sq km. There are 12 native eagles and all 100,000 of the Lesser Spotted Eagle migrate over Israel, as do 62,000 pelicans. On one day alone, 16% of the world population of storks landed on one Kibbutz. The Hula valley in Northern Israel hosts 35,000 grey cranes each year and over 350,000 bird enthusiasts come and view them on the Hula lake. In 2004, I was one of those visitors. For two hours I stood on the edge of the lake and watched tens of thousands of birds take to the sky then land on the water. It was one of the most breath-taking experiences I have ever had.