An Israeli film depicting the advantages of using barn owls and kestrels in place of pesticides won first prize in an international film competition that concluded on Friday.
The 2010 film, called The Use of Barn Owls and Kestrels as Biological Control Agents and produced by Yuval Dax, topped the charts in the expert and instructive films category at the Agrofilm Festival held throughout last week in Nitra, Slovakia, the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI), announced on Monday.
SPNI, along with Tel Aviv University, were the chief backers of the film, which in under 11 minutes explores the different ways that the barn owl – and its daytime counterpart, the kestrel raptor – have become “a natural hunting machine that eliminates rodents. With stereoscopic vision, sharper hearing than that of humans and silent flight, the barn owl is ‘the answer’ to what was formerly a field ridden with potentially cancerous pesticides,” the film argues.
The Agrofilm Festival, in its 28th year, was organized by the Slovakian Agriculture, Environment and Culture ministries, in partnership with the UN Food Agriculture Organization.
Out of the 120 films that entered the competition from 16 countries, 57 moved on to the final rounds, in which a winner and runner-up was selected in each of three categories – expert and instructive films, in which the film won, informative and popular films and documentaries.
“My production team and myself are surprised and pleased from the win in the competition,” Dax said in a statement. “This is an indication of the appreciation of the act of all of us in the field of nature conservation in Israel. Most of those involved worked voluntarily and invested in the ideology of conserving nature. An addition film about subject of ecological conservation of swallow populations, which is already ‘in the oven,’ will be submitted to the competition next year.”
The barn owl, which can catch 2,000 to 5,000 rodents per year, improves agricultural yield among certain crops by 24 percent – brings an “instant solution” against pests that does not involve dangerous chemicals, the film narrator explains.
Meanwhile, to help encourage the barn owls to make their homes within agricultural areas, birdwatcher and Israeli naval officer Amir Ezer has been reusing ammunition cases to create nesting boxes for the owls all over Israel, according to the narrator.
While the 2010 movie boasts 1,640 such nesting boxes throughout the country, a Monday statement from SPNI indicated that the number is now up to 2,100.
“The moment the barn owls nested there – the damaged stopped,” says biological pesticide project coordinator Shauli Aviel, gesturing to an area where rats had been harming date plans.
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“Today we have over 100,00 dunams of agricultural land where pesticides haven’t been used for 10 years,” Aviel continues in the film.
“It is possible to say that this model works successfully.”
The nocturnal barn owls, however, cannot do a 24-hour job, the narrator points out, so in the daytime, farmers are now turning to the common kestrel, a type of raptor, to perform similar duties.
Integral to spreading the barn owls to farms throughout the region are partnerships with neighbors the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, and the film shows TAU Prof. Yossi Leshem cooperating with Gen. (ret.) Mansour Abu Rashad, chairman of the Amman Center for Peace and Development, in this effort.
“The strange appearance of the barn owl didn’t help its image within the Arab culture, so it was difficult to persuade Jordanian farmers that the barn owl is beneficial to agriculture,” the narrator says.
Speaking with Jordanian farmer Ibrahim Alian, who says he’s pleased that barn owls have eradicated rats from his land, Leshem requests: “Then you will go to Syria, to Iran, to other countries we cannot go, and you will show them the system.”
The narrator adds, “In the Middle East, the dove has been replaced by the barn owl and the kestrel as the ambassadors of peace.”