Animal antics in the Arava

Gavin Bonsen arava Gavin Bonsen is headed to Israel to study the habits of desert wolves.

UNIVERSITY of Technology Sydney (UTS) doctoral candidate Gavin Bonsen, the first-ever recipient of JNF Australia’s Arava-Finkel Scholarship, is about to head to Israel to study the habits of desert wolves.

His project, which will look at the impact of “apex predators” on the ecosystem of the Arava desert, takes a bite out of funding from the new scholarship.

Established by Chief Scientist of Australia Alan Finkel and his wife Elizabeth Finkel, editor of scientific journal Cosmos, the scholarship’s aim is to promote scientific knowledge in the new discipline of compassionate conservation, in which Australia and Israel are playing a vital role. 

As major supporters of JNF Australia, with a leaning toward environmental science and research projects, the Finkels have made significant contributions to JNF projects in Israel, dealing with rehabilitation of aquatic plants in the Hula Valley, development of new varieties of eucalypts, and urban stormwater harvesting and biofiltration for aquifer recharge.

Earlier this year,  the couple collaborated with JNF Victoria to establish the Arava-Finkel Scholarship, to create an opportunity for a deserving Australian postgraduate student to contribute to conservation research in the Arava region. 

Emerging from the pack, successful candidate Bonsen, together with the Centre for Compassionate Conservation at UTS, will undertake doctoral research this September on the International Wolf Project. The initiative will develop strong connections between Israel, Australia and the USA, with much of the focus on the Arava Desert and its wolf population.

Bonsen will be based in the central Arava region and will work with esteemed scientist Dr Oded Keynan, a leader in the field of compassionate conservation. The scholarship covers lab costs, accommodation in Israel for the year, and publication of his research project.

“I have always been very passionate about both conservation and animal welfare, and to be a part of a research collaboration like the International Wolf Project, is a dream come true to say the least.

“I also feel privileged to be part of a research team in Hazeva and to contribute to the establishment of an ecological research station in the Arava region. For years I have wanted to visit Israel, and am now extremely excited as I have the chance to live in the Arava, studying wolves and the importance of apex predators in ecosystems,” said Bonsen.

JNF Australia CEO Dan Springer said his organisation “is proud of its longstanding association with environmental research in general and the newly established Finkel Scholarship in particular, encouraging the interchange of knowledge and ideas between Australia and Israel.

“While the scientific breakthroughs and applications are ever evolving, they are underpinned by the ancient Jewish concept of tikkun olam [repairing the world] to which JNF is committed,” he said, “as well as the maintenance of strong  academic ties between our two countries.”