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On the ascent

Israel’s griffon vulture population reaches eight-year high

Just over a year after eight of the birds were poisoned, the population still remains endangered and concentrated in just two areas of country, with natural reproduction slow

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

A griffon vulture. (Yosef Avgana, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
A griffon vulture. (Yosef Avgana, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

Griffon vulture numbers in Israel are at an eight-year high, although the population is still endangered, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority reported Tuesday.

Rangers counted 206 birds in June, up from 146 in the summer of 2012, a figure that was then dangerously low.

The vultures are counted in winter and spring at nesting and feeding sites, as part of a special project called “Spreading Wings.” In winter 2012, the numbers were even worse at 110 — compared to 184 in February this year.

This year, 48 nesting sites have been counted, compared to just 33 eight years ago.

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

The vulture population is still relatively small and endangered, partly because it is concentrated in just two areas — the Negev Mountains in southern Israel and the Carmel Mountains in the north. Only a few specimens have been spotted in the Golan Heights.

Reproduction is slow. Females only reach sexual maturity at five years and rear just one chick each year.

The INPA works with various organizations to minimize disturbance to vultures. For example, the Israel Airports Authority has been asked to ensure that airplanes do not fly too low over predatory birds’ nesting areas.

Last week, six vulture chicks jumped to their deaths in Croatia after a helicopter flew too close to their nests.

Vultures are an important part of the ecosystem as they eat carrion, helping to keep the natural environment clean.

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

In May last year, eight griffon vultures were found dead in the Golan Heights after being poisoned.

Birds such as griffon vultures can be watched from the comfort of one’s home via the Raptor Nestcam project of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, now in its fifth year.

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