by Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin
Which dangerous animals might you meet when you go hiking in Israel?
Well, if it was three thousand years ago, you might encounter one of the most dangerous large animals in the world: a hippopotamus! If it was a thousand years ago, you might encounter the king of beasts himself, the lion. Two hundred years ago you could still encounter bears and even crocodiles. One hundred years ago, five people near Beit Shemesh were mauled by leopards.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), none of these Biblical beasts pose a threat today. The largest wild carnivores remaining in the wild in Israel today are striped hyenas, wolves and jackals, none of which attack humans (except in the rare case that they are rabid). Wild boar in some parts of the world reach five hundred pounds and occasionally kill people, but those in Israel only reach around a hundred pounds and usually flee from human presence.
So, I’m Safe Then?
Venomous snakes and scorpions are another matter; though Israel lacks the aggressive and highly dangerous snakes found in other parts of the world, there are several species of snakes and scorpions here that are potentially capable of killing a person. Still, snakes and scorpions try to avoid encounters with humans; bites are rare, and fatalities are even rarer.
There is no need to be afraid of hiking; it is sensible to wear closed shoes, to be careful about overturning rocks, and so on. In the event of a snake bite, do not attempt to suck out the venom, but rather avoid exertion as much as possible and seek medical help.
The Land of Israel has stunning scenery and wildlife which, today, can be safely appreciated. If you’d like to experience what it looked like thousands of years ago, come visit the Biblical Museum of Natural History!
Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin is the founder and director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History, which just moved into a new building facing Beit Shemesh. For details, see www.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org