Farmers and environmentalists in Israel have united to create a man-made ecosystem designed to protect migrating cranes and the farm crops they like to eat. Called the Crane Project, it's an idea that aims to satisfy both sides of an environmental debate while also attracting eco-tourists to the Hula Valley wetland where the iconic birds gather. Jim Drury has more.
Hungry cranes being fed by a farmer in Israel's Hula Valley. It's not just an act of benevolence but a way of protecting lucrative corn and peanut crops. The valley is a natural stop-over point on the birds' historical migration route between Europe and north Africa. But farmers like Zamir Karmi, say several years ago, the cranes began to outstay their welcome. SOUNDBITE (English) ZAMIR KARMI, FARMER, SAYING: "The cranes stay here because we gave them a place with food and water, shallow water so they can sleep at night. And they stay here instead of going to Africa. If we don't do this they will go over our fields and eat the crops. So we have to feed them instead." Israel is one of the world's busiest junctions for more than 400 species of migrating birds. Most continue to their seasonal destinations, but the cranes are taking advantage of changing circumstances, according to local bird watching guide Yasmin Freihoff....and staying for longer. SOUNDBITE (English) YASMIN FREIHOFF, BIRD WATCHING GUIDE IN HULA VALLEY, SAYING: "The reason that the cranes are staying here all over the winter is because that in the 1990's we changed all the agriculture here and moved from mostly growing cotton to grow corn and peanuts. And then the cranes that always flew above Israel they had a very good reason to stop and they begin to cause a lot of damage to the agriculture fields". So, in order to protect their crops, the farmers joined forces with environmentalists and the Agamon Hula Ornithology and Nature Park to set up The Crane Project. The project distributes hundreds of tonnes of corn to the birds, with much of the cost met by a burgeoning ecotourist trade...bird-watchers who come to see various crane species, some endangered. It's a delicate man-made ecosystem, but one that seems to please the farmers, environmentalists, and bird-watchers of Hula Valley.