The Palestine Museum of Natural History
The Palestine Museum of Natural History was established to research, educate about, and conserve the Palestinian natural world, culture and heritage. The knowledge is used to promote responsible human interactions with the environment.
The museum is located in Bethlehem, just a short ride from the 300 checkpoint that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, on the slope of a hill. There are two buildings, one houses the offices, laboratory, library, meeting room and the museum with fossils and stuffed animals.
Palestinian cultural heritage and ethnography
In another building is a separate museum called the ‘ethnography museum’ where you can see and learn about agriculture in Palestine and the connection of Palestinians to their land, through the tools and objects that are on display. There is a description in Arabic and English for every item.
You can explore the Palestinian agricultural heritage online at turathna.palestinenature.org (Arabic). The site includes a database of stories, proverbs, knowledge and practices related to the land and nature.
The Museum’s garden
The Botanical Garden at the museum is a place to study and learn about the diversity of plants and wildlife in Palestine. The botanical garden became a member within the Global Botanical Gardens Network in 2019. It is based on preserving and protecting more than 360 species of plants present in the Palestinian environment, by protecting what is present or introducing new species and planting them in the garden.
The Bethlehem district suffers from being very much urbanized and its 220,000 residents having few options, as tourism economy is poor and open land is decreasing. Many growing up in urban areas now have little knowledge of their food sources, farming practices, importance of organic agriculture, and environmental issues around economic growth.
The community garden was developed to teach locals more about food sustainability and how to grow your own vegetables on small plots of land or even on roof tops of buildings. There are about 20 plots in the community garden for people who want to have their own experience in growing herbs and vegetables.
In the garden there is a big pond. It was built in 2014 with the aim of attracting living creatures, including migratory birds, to be studied while they are around the pond. Many organisms have been introduced to the pond, as three species of frogs, 4 species of dragonflies, 4 species of fresh water snails, fish, crabs, and water turtles, in addition to algae and aquatic plants present in the water.
A section of the land was developed into an interactive exploration and playground. The playground is built for a large part of recycled and natural materials. There is a ‘bare feet’ or sensory path, that consists of different materials like gravel, stones, pine cones and herbs, where children can explore and feel the different materials under their bare feet.
Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics. Aquaponics is an excellent way to grow fruit, vegetables, and crops on a small amount of land with a limited amount of water. Nile tilapia fish are farmed, and crops such as Swiss chard and tomatoes are grown.
Animal rescue and rehabilitation
The museum has rescued many animals and released them to the wild. In May 2019 the museum was approached by the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority with a Striped Hyena cub. The hyena had been seized from Hebron, where she was being sold on the internet. The museum staff called her Linda.
As Linda was only about four months old when she arrived at the museum and no longer had a family, it was unlikely she would survive if released at that stage. The staff decided to keep Linda at the museum until she was old enough to fend for herself, and quickly created an enclosure to house her.
Limited land at the museum made it difficult to equip Linda with the skills needed for survival in the wild. However, staff and volunteers helped prepare Linda for her release by hiding food in boxes around the enclosure to help Linda develop her sense of smell. Despite her young age, Linda also dug a burrow for herself under the olive tree in her enclosure.
Linda was released in February 2020, when she was just over a year old. She was coaxed into a cage before being driven to a rural area and released. Museum staff returned a week later to leave more food for Linda. Paw prints observed near the site of release suggested that Linda was doing well in her new home.
The museum demonstrates methods for cultivation, composting, recycling and upcycling. Plastic bottles are recycled into a green wall where plants and herbs are growing from the bottles that are being re-used as pots. The museum offers activities for children to explore nature and learn more about biodiversity.
Biodiversity in Palestine
Palestine is located between Europe, Asia and Africa with an area of 27000 km2 in the western part of the Fertile Crescent where humans first developed agriculture. The unique geography and geology gave Palestine more biological diversity than some countries ten times its size. The diverse habitats cover five eco-zones: the central highlands, the semi-coastal region, the eastern slope, the Jordan valley and the coastal region. Palestine also spans four bio geographical regions (Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabia and Sudanese). Climate is varied from cold winters with semi-permanent frost in mountains 1000 meter above sea level (Mount Hermon) to semi-tropical climate in the lowest point on earth in the Dead Sea region at 400 meter under the sea level. Rainfall is between 1000 mm in the highest mountains to less than 50 mm in arid regions. Temperatures also vary from freezing to over 35 C in summer months in the Wadi Araba areas.
The Mediterranean Zone flora is characteristic maquis forest with trees like oaks and pistacia. The plant cover then decreases proportionally and includes different species as we head south and east into Irano-Turanean, Saharo-Arabian and then Ethiopian-Sudanese flora.
Fauna in Palestine
This creates diverse habitats and results in distinct assemblages of animals such mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, birds and different groups of Invertebrates.
Animal species in Palestine:
- Birds (551 species)
- Mammals (130 species)
- Reptiles (97 species)
- Amphibians (8 species)
- Invertebrates (More than 13000 species)
Flora in Palestine
Historic Palestine is very rich in flora with over 4500 species. The West Bank alone has over 1600 species and in our botanic garden there are over 400 species. The garden acts as both in situ and ex situ conservation area. There are endemic species like Iris haynei (national plant), Origanum dayei, Satureja thymbrifolia.
Source: from the website of the museum https://www.palestinenature.org