Israel's Top Eco-Friend Is for the Birds Wednesday, December 8, 2010
TAU's Dr. Yossi Leshem leads the list of the nation's top 10 environmentalists
Dr. Yossi Leshem
From brokering bird preservation projects with Jordanian generals to showing former U.S. President Jimmy Carter the ecological elements of peace making, Dr. Yossi Leshem of Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology is now recognized as one of Israel's top 10 environmentalists.
In fact, a recent Israel21c report puts him in the #1 spot. "When Israelis mention birds, the name Yossi Leshem is never far off," Israel21c notes. "A world renowned ornithologist, Leshem has been involved in many aspects of nature conservation, with an emphasis on bird research, for close to 38 years. … They don't call him the 'bird man' for nothing."
Dr. Leshem earned his Ph.D. on migrating birds in 1989, and the 63-year-old researcher has been on a quest ever since to ensure that there are fewer collisions between aircraft and birds. Israeli skies are a major flyway for birds transiting from continental Africa to Europe, and some half-billion birds are particularly vulnerable as they pass through the region twice a year via the Syrian-African rift.
"Whenever I ask someone what they know about Israel, they always say the same three things: history, archaeology and the conflict we have with the Palestinians. But you know, our story with bird migration is no less significant," says Dr. Leshem. "We have 500 million birds passing through Israel twice each year, and we are creating special facilities in the Hula Valley and at 15 birding stations across Israel to study and educate young and old about the importance of preserving these birds.
"My goal right now is to turn Israel into a birding hotspot, to access some of the 100 million birders who travel the world looking for their favorite flying friends. This has implications beyond eco-tourism and bird watching. Through developing bird stations, we are creating a network for study and research for the next generation."
In his doctoral research on "Migrating Birds Know No Boundaries," Dr. Leshem demonstrated a decrease of 76 percent in the number of collisions with aircraft caused by birds, saving the government 800 million dollars.
In 2008, during Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations, Dr. Leshem received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Environmental Protection in Israel. With the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, he is involved in educational activities regarding bird life and is developing a grassroots project so that farmers can use owl nesting boxes instead of pesticides on their farms.
A past general director at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), Dr. Leshem now works as a senior researcher at the Department of Zoology in the Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University.