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Feral dog explosion threatens survival of endangered vultures – Nature Authority

Chief scientist calls for cutting food waste, regulating wild dog numbers, and banning poisons that also kill vultures

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

A feral dog. (Ohad Yahalomi, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
A feral dog. (Ohad Yahalomi, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

Israel’s nature authorities will only be able to protect griffon vultures and other endangered carnivores if it culls an exploding population of feral dogs and cleans up the discarded food waste that sustains it, the chief scientist of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said Tuesday.

Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy told a conference at the Ramat Gan Safari in central Israel that despite all the authority’s efforts to protect the griffon vulture population and encourage breeding, it could not keep up with the pace of birds dying from the poison that farmers were putting out to kill the dogs and other predators to stop them from attacking their flocks.

Israel is currently home to just over 200 of the vultures, most of which live in the southern Negev and Judean deserts.

More than one-third of the vultures treated at the wildlife hospital at the Safari are sent there after they were poisoned.

Of the 24 individuals known to have died this year, 12 were poisoned in the area of the Kina streambed of the Judean Desert in October. Another four died elsewhere after consuming Voltaren, an arthritis pain relief medication, from a carcass.

Shkedy fingered open waste dumps, landfill sites, and compost piles as well as uncollected livestock carcasses as the first link in the chain of events that leads to vulture poisoning.

Dead vultures found in the Judean Desert in what the Israel Nature and Parks Authority suspects is a malicious poisoning event, October 24, 2020. (Eyal Ben Giat, INPA)

The waste sustains feral dogs, whose numbers are estimated at anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000, he said, as well as other predators such as jackals and foxes.

The feral dog problem is particularly acute in the country’s periphery and around Arab communities, Shkedy said, endangering humans and livestock. He recalled the death in April 2020 of a toddler, aged a year and nine months, who was attacked by a feral dog in the Bedouin town of Bir Hadaj in the south.

It was critical to “radically” reduce feral dog numbers, Shkedy insisted, indicating that culling was unavoidable. But because dogs are classed as pets rather than wild animals, INPA inspectors were only authorized to cull them — to prevent the spread of rabies — inside nature reserves and national parks or within a 500-meter (1,640-foot) radius of them, he said. And even then, they needed special permits to do so.

A man feeds leftovers from his store to stray cats in central Jerusalem, October 13, 2010. (Keren Freeman/FLASH90)

He added that programs to spay and neuter dogs and cats needed expanding, but could not solve the problem without culling.

Shkedy said that in order to control predator numbers, it was essential to dispose properly of the food waste and animal corpses that sustained them. That would include stopping citizens from putting food out for feral cats. He said that farmers would have an incentive to collect dead animals if they were insured.

It was incumbent upon local authorities to secure municipal dumpsters so that the animals could not knock them over, and to empty them every evening. He said that steps such as those were helping the northern city of Haifa to reduce the number of wild boars coming into town from the Carmel Forest to feed on leftovers.

Wild boars gather in a residential area in the northern city of Haifa on December 5, 2019 (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Third, said Shkedy, it was imperative to reduce the use of poisonous pesticides and fertilizers, regulate their ownership, and pass a law enabling authorities to arrest people suspected of poisoning wildlife. At present, anyone can buy such poison and suspects can only be charged if they are caught red-handed.

“I’ve been talking about this since 2007,” Shkedy said, “but nothing has changed.”

This year, just five vulture eggs hatched within the framework of an INPA breeding program.

A captive griffon vulture with an egg. (Yigal Miller, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

The number of vulture nesting sites has declined over the years, from 118 in 2001 to just 47 last year, Shkedi said.

The population’s vulnerability to manmade dangers was underlined while the conference took place, with an INPA report that one of the vultures poisoned in the Golan Heights in May 2019 and nursed back to health sustained serious injuries after touching a high voltage electricity line in the northern Carmel. The fourth vulture in the last two years to collide in that area with a high voltage wire, it apparently perched there to survey the carcass of a cow below.

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