In Tel Aviv, a Herd of Sheep Is Helping the City Bloom

In Tel Aviv, a Herd of Sheep Is Helping the City Bloom

Tel Aviv’s first official herdsman is accompanied by two border collies, Chaos and Fauda: the first only takes commands in Hebrew, the second only in British English

Ari Libsker  :  2018-11-19T18:19:30..
It is morning, and herdsman Asaf Gal is leading his sheep to pasture at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon River Park, accompanied by his two border collies, Chaos and Fauda. Beyond the green, the high rises of Tel Aviv tower over. Gal whistles and gives orders in two languages. Chaos only takes commands in Hebrew, Gal says, while Fauda understands only when spoken to in British English.

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There’s little time to waste—the Sheep have work to do. Their job is to help this patch of urban nature bloom again. This herd is a pilot to a more ambitious project, one that will see sheep used to rehabilitate 52 patches of undeveloped nature that remain within the greater Tel Aviv metropolitan area. If successful, more sheep herds could be seen grazing around the city.

Tel Aviv Tel Aviv's urban sheep herd. Photo: Amit Sha'al Tel Aviv

The project is the brainchild of Liav Shalem, an ecologist working for the city’s Ganei Yehoshua Park company. When the sheep graze, he explains, they thin out the grass, just as their ancestors did for millennia. When the sheep disappeared from this region, it caused an ecological imbalance. Grass such as wild wheat and oats overpowered other local species, especially flowers.

With the sheep back and chomping away at the grass, Shalem said, residents can expect to start seeing anemones, daffodils, and irises. Luckily, sheep do not find these beauties palatable. Sheep make herbicides, pruning machines and mowers superfluous. To revive this urban park, we need to get back to the days of yore, Shalem said.

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The idea to keep a herd in the middle of the city came from New York City. Goats tend the grass at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, but they would eat everything, including the precious flowers the city of Tel Aviv wants to see in bloom.

Shalem hopes to see this patch of park in bloom this upcoming February.

When he is not serving as Tel Aviv’s designated shepherd, Gal is a dog trainer who trains services dogs. He lives in the posh north Tel Aviv neighborhood Tsahala with Chaos, Fauda, and three other dogs. He herds the sheep once a week for three hours. The sheep picked for the job can count themselves lucky, according to Gal: They are not sheared, and the females are not milked. Their one job is to graze in the open air.
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