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Can this biblical bird return to its ancestral home in Israel?
The female ostrich slowly approaches her nest like a prima donna making a grande entre. Bending her long neck downward in a graceful S curve, she surveys a mass of eggs. About 15 of them are clustered in the center of the nest--a shallow scrape in the ground--and another 27 lie in the vicinity. She moves her long legs cautiously on either side of the central pile and subsides gently. Using her neck and chin, she tucks a few outlying eggs beneath her, then fluffs out her brown-gray, feather-duster wings and settles down.
The massive bird regards me with large, deep-brown, long-lashed eyes and vague disinterest, but no sign of animosity.
For this I am grateful, since an ostrich in defense of its nest can turn into 140 kilograms (300 lbs.) of lethal fury. One slash with its steel-hard toenail, for example, will disembowel a lion. My lady ostrich, fortunately, seems indifferent to my presence and half-dozes in the warmth of the desert sun.
In the distance grazes a herd of wary, fawn-colored onagers--"a wild ass used to the wilderness," according to the Bible. Rare dorcas gazelles are as delightfully graceful as in Solomon's Song of Songs: "My beloved is like a gazelle." A small herd of milky-white oryxes with long, slender horns rests in the shade of a wide-spreading acacia tree.
This is Hai Bar ("wildlife" in Hebrew), a unique reserve in the hot rift valley called the Arava, 40 kilometers (25 mi.) north of Elat. For nearly three decades, Hai Bar has served as the Noah's Ark of Israel. Here, biologists have gathered, fed and attempted to breed many of the 130 species of animals mentioned in the Bible, including the ostrich. Several species have been successfully reintroduced to the wild, but rising costs are forcing Israel's Nature Reserves Authority to phase out the …