Our first stop on the hike was a seepage pool where Dana spotted the small “crevice salamander” that is only found in Hickory Nut Gorge. Originally considered a separate species, they are now known as the Bat Cave form of the Yonahlossee salamander (Plethodon yonahlossee).
No soldier has set foot in these bunkers since 1994, when Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan. Still covered with mine fields, the area is off-limits to civilians but is housing new residents - bats. Today scientists have identified 12 bat species here, including the Mediterranean horseshoe bat and Geoffroy's bat that are both on the list of critically endangered species. Another three varieties are also designated as endangered. Israeli Nature and Parks Authority Ranger, Aviam Atar. SOUNDBITE: Israeli Nature and Parks Authority Ranger, Aviam Atar, saying (Hebrew) "All the species of these insect-eating bats are on the verge of extinction. Their natural habitats on the mountain are already damaged -- areas of caves, ruins, all sorts of places have already been affected by man." To help out the winged mammals researchers made the bat caves... more bat-friendly. Insulating foam was sprayed across the walls and wires were hung on metal ceilings. SOUNDBITE: Israeli Nature and Parks Authority Ranger, Aviam Atar, saying (Hebrew) "We identified that they mostly suspended off telephone cables that were pulled there. So we figured that if they already like something, let's give them even better conditions." Although scientists say it's too early to quantify the growth of the local bat population, there is proof -- such as the guano covering these floors -- that the bats are back to populate land abandoned by man. Elly Park, Reuters.
Update: On Thursday, we heard from Adrian Bell with the Nature Conservancy, who said the hike this summer goes no farther than the lower and smaller entrance known as Little Bat Cave as part of the effort to safeguard the bats.
I visited the bat caves just at sunset. I had been told that the bats fly out of the caves at sunset. Sure enough out they came. So many that they almost turned the sky black.