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5,000 dead cranes counted at Hula Lake reserve amidst bird flu outbreak

Several dozen dead birds also spotted in Jezreel Valley in northern Israel, as environmental protection minister accompanies nature officials on situation assessment

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Crane carcasses litter the lake at the Hula Lake Reserve in northern Israel on December 26, 2021, following an outbreak of bird flu. (Guy Eilon/ Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
Crane carcasses litter the lake at the Hula Lake Reserve in northern Israel on December 26, 2021, following an outbreak of bird flu. (Guy Eilon/ Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

Some 5,000 dead cranes were counted Sunday at the Hula Lake Reserve in northern Israel, amid an outbreak of avian flu that has also seen the culling of more than half a million chickens and turkeys.

The Hula Leke is the main gathering point for tens of thousands of wild birds that migrate through Israel twice yearly.

Nature authorities provide food there, to keep the birds away from farmers’ crops.

Feeding is continuing since the outbreak of the H5N1 virus at the lake, and in chicken sheds at Moshav Margaliot on the Lebanese border, to try to keep the cranes from flying elsewhere and taking the virus with them.

During a tour of the area on Sunday by staff of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund, accompanied by Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, another 250 dead cranes were seen in the Hula Valley outside of the reserve, and a further 30 were documented elsewhere, mainly in the Jezreel Valley.

A pelican with bird flu was reported in the Hefer Valley in central Israel and samples were being taken from dead birds at Kfar Ruppin in the Beit She’an Valley.

The INPA believes that the disease spread from Moshav Margaliot, via a truck driver who delivered food to the chicken coops there and then brought food to the Hula Reserve. A spokeswoman said there had never been such an avian flu outbreak among wild birds.

The Agriculture Ministry has said that the farmers on the moshav failed to report the outbreak in real time, allowing it to spread like wildfire.

The Hula Reserve will remain closed to the public until January 1.

Members of the public are advised to cook eggs and poultry meat thoroughly before eating, to avoid contact with wild birds or their excrement, and to call the INPA on *3639 if they see any signs of sick or dead birds.

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