Nature authority presses for millions more to protect threatened vultures

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is pushing the Environmental Protection Ministry to allocate NIS 20 million ($5.6 million) annually to help increase protection for the endangered griffon vulture.

The iconic birds, whose wingspans can reach up to 2.8 meters (more than nine feet), face a long list of dangers – from collisions with power lines and lead poisoning to habitat loss and food and water shortages in various parts of the region.

But its main threat is the contamination of carrion with chemicals or veterinary drugs, often by farmers or ranchers who put out poisoned carcasses to protect herds from wolves, jackals and even deer dogs.

If approved, the NIS 20 million from the Ministry’s Clean Fund will be used in local authorities with serious sanitation problems to build facilities to collect agricultural waste (mainly meat), fence garbage collection points to stop canines from going to the food, pay more. rangers to find and remove lacerated carcasses and use dogs to detect poisons.

So far, the authority has only taken these steps in cases where the local councils have paid for the services.

Only about 230 griffon vultures remain in Israel in the wild, according to a report in December.

Poisoning was found on the carcasses of eight vultures found in the Golan Heights on 10 May 2019. (Nature and Parks Authority)

Over the last few decades the number of nests has dropped significantly, from a high of 118 in 2002 to just 38 last year.

The INPA already spends millions of shekels annually on the breeding of the birds.

He fields teams, mainly volunteers, to protect vulture eggs in nests and has developed an elaborate way to harvest and nurture eggs laid in captivity.

A worker at the Hai-Bar Carmel in northern Israel shows how a slender bird’s head is inserted into the opening of the cage to feed a vulture to prevent human contact that could harm the young bird’s introduction into the wild, March 22, 2023. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

He tags the birds with radio transmitters so that their movements can be followed.

Its supervisors remove carcasses and distribute vulture food – dead farm animals that have not been treated with chemicals or drugs – in about 25 centers across the country, in cooperation with livestock farmers.

Vulture experts use dummy eggs to replace real ones laid by captive females at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s Carmel Hai-Bar in northern Israel, March 22, 2023. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

“We don’t need the vultures, we need them, they are nature’s cleaners,” explained Ohad Hazofe, the avian Ecologist of the INPA, adding that research has shown an increase in dog populations and rabies in places where only vulture populations were gone.

“Ninety-nine percent of the farmers observe the law,” he continued. “It can take one to put out poison and drive the vultures to extinction … There is no other species that we invest so much in.”

In addition to its work in the field, the INPA has long campaigned for an amendment to the Wildlife Act to make prosecutions easier and penalties much tougher for wildlife poisoning.

In December 2021, a private member’s bill submitted by former Knesset lawmaker Mossi Raz passed preliminary reading but did not progress further.

Dr. asked Yehoshua Shkedy, the chief scientist of the INPA, has repeatedly called for the reduction of the use of poisonous insecticides, the registration and control of their ownership, and the passing of a law enabling the authorities to arrest people suspected of poisoning wildlife. capture Currently, anyone can buy such poison and suspects can only be charged if caught red-handed.

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