The Persian fallow deer (Dama Mesopotamica), once one of the most common wild animals in Israel, is now hard to find anywhere in the world. Following decades of uncontrolled, illegal hunting, the Persian fallow deer became extinct in the Middle East during the 20th century. During the 1970s, several Persian fallow deer were brought to Israel from Iran in order to create a breeding core that would serve to return this species naturally to Israel. This activity was part of a wider-ranging project aimed at reintroducing naturally those animals that had been common in Israel in the past, but that had since become extinct due to man's negligence.
In 1996, with a breeding herd of over 150 deer, Israel's Nature Reserves Authority began a project of reintroducing the Persian fallow deer. In this process a dozen deer are transferred every six months or so from the Carmel Hai-Bar Nature Reserve to an enclosed acclimatization area protected from birds of prey, located in the Nahal Kziv Reserve in the Western Galilee. By early 2002, 120 deer had already been reintroduced, and 40 new fawns had been born. Today, the herd is dispersed throughout the Western Galilee and comprises the largest wild Persian fallow deer population in the world.
During the course of the project various problems arose, such as unlicensed hunting and damage to orchards and agricultural fields. Increased antagonism within the local population as well as continued hunting are liable to lead to the project's complete failure.
Consequently, SPNI, led by its Israel Mammal Center, began its Persian Fallow Deer Educational Project in 2001, with the support of the Green Environment Fund. Hopefully this educational program will become a primary environmental activity within the community, transforming the "Reintroduction Project of the Persian Fallow Deer to the Western Galilee Landscape" into an important tool for regional involvement, and perhaps even encouraging residents to promote the program as a local tourism project.
Introducing ongoing environmental education in the Western Galilee communities is key to local residents’ active participation in the project, and ensuring its long-term success. SPNI views environmental education as an important tool with which to teach today's youth not only about the environment, but also how to act for the environment. It has developed several formal and informal educational programs for Galilee students that expose them to the Persian Fallow Deer Reintroduction Project in particular, and to the importance of conservation activities in general.