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Weeks after 12 endangered vultures found poisoned to death

MKs advance bill to ease prosecution, raise punishment for wildlife poisoning

Amendment to Wildlife Act, introduced by Meretz’s Mossi Raz and passed in preliminary Knesset reading, seeks to protect vultures, other animals from poisoning by farmers

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

One of nine dead vultures shown next to the carcass of a goat in the Judean Desert in what the Israel Nature and Parks Authority suspects is a malicious poisoning event, October 24, 2021. (Eyal Ben Giat, INPA)
One of nine dead vultures shown next to the carcass of a goat in the Judean Desert in what the Israel Nature and Parks Authority suspects is a malicious poisoning event, October 24, 2021. (Eyal Ben Giat, INPA)

Six weeks after 12 endangered vultures were found poisoned to death in the Judean Desert, Knesset lawmakers on Wednesday approved in a preliminary reading an amendment to the Wildlife Act to make prosecutions easier and punishments far more severe for wildlife poisoning.

The amendment, drafted by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and introduced a year ago by Mossi Raz (Meretz), passed by 59 votes in favor to 50 against — figures that reflected the balance of coalition and opposition members present.

It will now go to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for discussion.

Of the 12 vultures found dead in October, out of a total population of around 200, the first nine were found near a dead goat, which had apparently been poisoned. The additional three were located three days later near to the corpses of two dogs.

Earlier this month, the chief scientist of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority warned that the authorities would only be able to protect griffon vultures and other endangered carnivores if allowed to cull an exploding population of feral dogs and if the discarded food waste that sustains it were cleaned up.

Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy told a conference 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.

Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy, Israel Nature and Parks Authority Chief Scientist. (Courtesy INPA)

Shkedy also said that 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.

Earlier this year, some 20 wild animals, including a rare and endangered white-tailed eagle, were found dead near Kadita in the central Galilee, apparently after they were poisoned by pesticides.

In May 2019, eight griffon vultures were found dead in the Golan Heights after being poisoned, and two were treated for poisoning, in an incident that was seen as devastating to the species in the region. The vultures had apparently eaten from the carcass of a cow that had been poisoned. A dead fox and two dead jackals were also found in the area.

Vultures play a key role as cleaners in nature, devouring the remains of carcasses after other carnivores have had their fill.

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