Three more dead vultures found in Judean Desert, bringing poisoning toll to 12

Nature and Parks Authority says two dead dogs also discovered; one of the birds had been fitted with a radio transmitter; all corpses to be examined

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

Scren capture from video of a dead griffon vulture found in the Judean Desert, October 27, 2021. (Srugim)
Scren capture from video of a dead griffon vulture found in the Judean Desert, October 27, 2021. (Srugim)

Three griffon vultures were found dead in a southern streambed Wednesday where nine lifeless birds had been discovered earlier this week, in what the Israel Nature and Parks Authority suspects were malicious poisonings.

The INPA initially reported that it had found one poisoned bird and the bodies of two dogs in the Kina streambed of the Judean Desert. Later in the day, two more birds were found.

One of the vultures had previously been fitted with a transmitter, the INPA said in a statement. From October 23 its signals were no longer received due to bad reception. But later “the vulture was dragged by wildlife that tried to eat it and the movement enabled the transmitter to broadcast,” the statement said.

The first nine griffon vultures were found dead Sunday. The corpses were found in the area of the Kina and Kamrir streambeds on the basis of information from transmitters attached to the birds.

Next to them was a dead goat, which had apparently been poisoned and was being eaten by scavenger birds.

All the corpses were to be taken to the veterinary institute at Beit Dagan in central Israel for further examination, while INPA inspectors continued to roam the area as far as Sde Boker and Hamakhtesh Hakatan (the Small Crater) with a special sniffer dog.

The nine original dead birds range in age from one to 16 years. A 3-year-old among them is known to have been injured twice before, in Greece and in Italy.

An investigation has been opened into what is a serious blow to Israel’s already endangered vulture population. The findings will be relayed to the Israel Police.

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)

INPA Director Shaul Goldstein visited the site and said the country’s vultures faced dangers of poisoning, electrification by power lines, the disappearance of habitat and shortages of water. The authority has been doing a lot to try to protect the vulture population, he went on, even fielding teams, mainly of volunteers, to protect vulture eggs in nests.

“We drive around with border guards, with the police, we do intelligence work, we do everything and in the end something like this happens,” he said. “If people were to drink water with this poison, they would die immediately.

“Today there are about 200 vultures in Israel. Nine vultures constitute almost five percent of the entire vulture population in Israel. Vulture poisoning continues, and each time we are all shocked anew,” Goldstein added. “But until the law is changed, it will be very difficult to catch the perpetrators, and even if they are caught, it is doubtful they will be prosecuted.”

Israel Nature and Parks Authority Director Shaul Goldstein speaks from the site in the Judean Desert where nine dead vultures were found after an apparent malicious poisoning event, October 24, 2020. (INPA screenshot)

The organization said it would be pushing a legislative amendment proposed by Meretz MK Mossi Raz a year ago to make prosecution easier and punishments far more severe for wildlife poisoning.

In many cases, vultures are poisoned by eating from the carcass of a predator killed by farmers to protect their livestock. In this case, the sequence of events remains unclear.

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.

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

In recent years, the Nature and Parks Authority has made supreme efforts to conserve and rebuild the local vulture population. Last August, the organization reported that griffon vulture numbers were at an eight-year high, although the population was still endangered.

Rangers counted 206 birds in June this year, 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 project called “Spreading Wings.”

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

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