Photo Credit: Yuvalr / Wikimedia
Ashalim stream (Nahal Ashalim), Judean Desert, Israel.

(JNI.media) The number of rare ibexes that have been killed at the Nahal Ashalim Nature Reserve has risen to 8 after an additional 2, one male and one female,  were recently found dead on the site. Prior to the toxic spill at the neighboring Rotem Fertilizer plant, there were only 26 ibexes in the Southern area of the Judean desert, one of the few places in the world where wild ibexes dwell, protected from hunting.

The crisis began in late June, when one of the walls of the Rotem Fertilizer plant collapsed and caused acid waste to spill into the wadi close by. The spill caused considerable damage, with tens of thousands of tons of toxic waste infecting the entire area. A number of ibexes died shortly after the incident as the contaminated waters rose to four meters high. Director General of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority announced in early July that the Nature Reserve would be closed for nearly a year, as reported by Arutz Sheva.

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The estimated damage is into the tens of millions of shekel and will take years to reverse. The Ministry of Environmental Protection announced that a criminal investigation of Rotem Fertilizer would be initiated. Rotem Fertilizer is owned by Israel Chemicals, which released a statement promising full cooperation with an investigation and a commitment to repair the damage to the river bed.

The decimation of the ibex population has strong implications for the environmental balance of the area and the future survival of the ibex. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) director Gilad Gabai said, “This is a relatively rare wild animal of great importance to the environment. It is painful and frustrating to see the damage to the ibex and other wildlife in the area. The damage could lead to continued damage to the flora and fauna in the area and will take years to rehabilitate,” as reported by Ynet

The Nubian ibex is a desert-dwelling goat that is native to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is estimated that there are only 1,200 Nubian ibexes living the the wild.They thrive on the rocky terrain of the Negev and are attracted to the waters of the river. The international Union for the Conservation of Nature has declared that the species is vulnerable because there are fewer than 10,000. In many areas of the world, the ibex is threatened by competition for water with livestock, natural predators and hunting.

The massive spill reverses much of the progress in the  revitalization of the river in the Negev, which was undertaken with the investment of billions of shekel in treatment of wastewater and sewage plants in the past few years. Given the sparse population in the Negev, the ecosystem was relatively unspoiled prior to the disaster.

The Nahal Ashalim disaster hasn’t been the only natural disaster to hit the area in recent years. The 2014 oil pipeline rupture in the Arava represented one of the worst environmental disasters in Israel’s history. Three to five million liters of raw crude affected the Evrona Nature Reserve and severely damaged plants and wildlife. Reagent sprays were used to decompose the toxic substances and scrubbers with oxidizing compounds neutralized toxic materials.

The cleanup process in the Nahal Ashalim began with intense pumping out of wastewater in the area. Although efforts to repair the damage have been occurring around the clock, in the best of circumstances, the effects of the disaster will be felt long-term with extended soil damage in addition to the massive loss of plant and animal life since the beginning of the spill. Efforts were made to keep animals away from contaminated waters as well as preventing hikers from venturing into the area.

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